Willis Clark Conover, Jr. (December 18, 1920 – May 17, 1996) was a jazz producer and broadcaster on the Voice of America for over forty years. He produced jazz concerts at the White House, the Newport Jazz Festival, and for movies and television. By arranging concerts where people of all races were welcome, he is credited with desegregating Washington, D.C., nightclubs.[2] Conover is credited with keeping interest in jazz alive in the countries of Eastern Europe through his nightly broadcasts during the Cold War.[3]

Willis Conover
Willis Conover broadcasting with Voice of America in 1969
Willis Conover broadcasting with Voice of America in 1969
Background information
Born(1920-12-18)December 18, 1920
Buffalo, New York, US[1]
DiedMay 17, 1996(1996-05-17) (aged 75)
Alexandria, Virginia, US[1]
Occupation(s)Broadcaster, producer

Youth edit

As a young man, Conover was interested in science fiction, and published a science-fiction fanzine, Science Fantasy Correspondent. This brought him into contact with horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The correspondence between Lovecraft, who was at the end of his life, and the young Conover, has been published as Lovecraft at Last.[4]

Conover's father had intended for him to attend The Citadel and follow his family's history of military service. Instead, he attended the Maryland State Teacher's College at Salisbury, Maryland, and became a radio announcer for WTBO in Cumberland, Maryland.

He later moved to Washington, D.C., and focused on jazz in his programming, especially the Duke Ellington hour on Saturday nights. His guests on this program and Saturday morning shows included many artists, such as Boyd Raeburn.

Voice of America edit

Conover's first arrival in Poland (1959)

Conover came to work at the Voice of America, and became known to jazz lovers via the hour-long program Voice of America Jazz Hour. His slow delivery and the use of scripts written in "special English" made his programmes more widely accessible and he is said to have become the first teacher of English to a whole generation of East European jazz lovers.[5] Conover was not well known in the United States, even among jazz aficionados, as the Voice of America did not broadcast domestically except on shortwave, but his visits to Eastern Europe and Soviet Union brought huge crowds and star treatment for him. He was a celebrity figure in the Soviet Union, where the Voice of America was a prime source of information as well as music.

In 1956, Conover conducted a series of interviews with jazz musicians such as Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Stan Getz, Peggy Lee, Stan Kenton, Benny Goodman, and Art Tatum. His interview with Tatum is reputedly "the only known in-depth recorded interview with the pianist". These interviews were selected by the Library of Congress as a 2010 addition to the National Recording Registry, which selects recordings annually that are "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".[6]

Death edit

Conover died of lung cancer on May 17, 1996, at age 75.[7] He had been a smoker for 57 years.[8] He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[9]

In 2001, on the fifth anniversary of his death, US Embassy in Moscow and Moscow jazz society co-organized a commemorative concert in Moscow.[10]

Legacy edit

External videos
  Interview with Conover about the appeal of jazz music to international audiences, October 23, 1985, C-SPAN

Conover's broadcasts influenced a wave of Russian and Polish jazz musicians, such as Leo Feigin and Adam Makowicz.[10]

In 1990, Conover was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.[11]

In 2015, the University of North Texas announced its Willis Conover Collection would make digitized copies of Conover's programs available online.[12]

References edit

  1. ^ a b Thomas, Jr., Robert McG. (May 19, 1996). "Willis Conover, 75, Voice of America Disc Jockey". New York Times. p. 35. Archived from the original on May 30, 2019. Retrieved December 12, 2010.
  2. ^ Robert McG. Thomas Jr., "Willis Conover Is Dead at 75; Aimed Jazz at the Soviet Bloc" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine, New York Times, May 19, 1996. Retrieved February 4, 2010.
  3. ^ Willis Conover: Broadcasting Jazz To The World, by Terence M. Ripmaster (born 1933), iUniverse (2007); OCLC 180237422
  4. ^ Loucks, Donovan K. (August 2015). "Donald A. Wollheim's Hoax Review of the Necronomicon". Lovecraft Annual (9): 212–218. ISSN 1935-6102. JSTOR 26868506.
  5. ^ Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006, pp. 180–181.
  6. ^ "The National Recording Registry 2010". Library of Congress. Archived from the original on April 10, 2011. Retrieved April 10, 2011.
  7. ^ Thomas, Robert Mcg. Jr. (May 19, 1996). "Willis Conover Is Dead at 75; Aimed Jazz at the Soviet Bloc". New York Times. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  8. ^ James Lester, "Willis of Oz" Archived March 28, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, Central Europe Review, Vol. 1, No. 5, July 26, 1999. Retrieved February 4, 2010.
  9. ^ "Burial detail: Conover, Willis C, Jr". ANC Explorer. Retrieved February 28, 2023.
  10. ^ a b Cold War broadcasting : impact on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe: a collection of studies and documents. A. Ross Johnson, R. Eugene Parta, Timothy Garton Ash. Budapest: Central European University Press. 2010. ISBN 978-1-4416-7708-2. OCLC 671648365.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  11. ^ "Conover, Willis Clark, Jr. | Encyclopedia.com". Archived from the original on January 28, 2021. Retrieved December 18, 2017.
  12. ^ Ramsey, Doug. "The Willis Conover Archive Is Online". ArtsJournal. Rifftides. Archived from the original on September 7, 2015. Retrieved September 11, 2015.

External links edit