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Secretary Antony J. Blinken at the Launch of the U.S. Department of State-YouTube Global Music Partnership

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Good afternoon, everyone.  So we’re seriously increasing the cool factor here at the State Department this afternoon.  (Laughter.)

Look, first of all, great to see everyone here today.  Let me just start with this.  We’ve been doing a lot on music diplomacy, and you’re going to hear more about it in just a few minutes.  But the main reason we’ve been doing it, doing it so well, doing it so effectively, is Lee Satterfield, our assistant secretary of state.  (Applause.)

We’ve got a few VIPs with us today, but Lee is really leading the way, the mastermind behind so much of our innovative diplomacy, enlisting Olympians, enlisting Oscar winners, enlisting Grammy awardees to serve as cultural ambassadors for the United States. 

To all of you here, welcome.  I especially want to thank our U.S. Global Music Ambassadors here with us today.

Chuck D – yay.  (Applause.)  Grace Bowers – yay.  (Applause.)  BRELAND.  (Applause.)  Denyce Graves.  (Applause.)  Justin Tranter.  (Applause.)  Armani White.  (Applause.)  Yeah.  Lainey Wilson – yay.  (Applause.)

I also want to thank Kane Brown.  Herbie Hancock – yeah.  (Applause.)  Jelly Roll.  (Applause.)  And Teddy Swims. 

This group – and I’ll say a few more words about them in a minute – they more than speak for themselves.  But this is truly an extraordinary assemblage of talent, and I couldn’t be more grateful to each of you for not only being here today but for undertaking this mission, which I’ll talk more about in a second.

Finally, a very special welcome to Lyor Cohen, to Vivien Lewit, the entire YouTube team here with us today.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

So when we launched this Music Diplomacy Initiative in the fall, Lyor came to us and said, quite simply, what can we do together?  And that question led to an answer, which is the partnership that we’re launching today.

All of us are here because we believe in the power of music.  To inspire us, to lift us, to stir us.  But also to communicate and to connect – to express who we are, where we come from, what we value, what we love, and to learn the same from others.

In that way, and I’ve seen this over more than 30 years in this business, music has a unique power in diplomacy:  introducing others to our history, to our culture – creating ties that cross borders – strengthening relationships between our people, and even our governments.  The number of times I’ve been able to connect with counterparts, even in governments that have different views than our own, through music, it’s been quite something to see.

As one foreign correspondent wrote after seeing Louis Armstrong play behind the Iron Curtain:  “America’s secret weapon is a blue note in a minor chord.” 

MR COHEN:  Wow.  (Laughter.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Music is such a powerful diplomatic force because I think it taps into something fundamental – universal, even.  It’s capable of expressing common emotions and speaking to shared experiences in a way that words alone simply can’t. 

When Armstrong went to Ghana on the eve of its independence, he felt an incredible sense of kinship with the people that he met.  He spoke about being inspired by them, by their liberation from colonial rule – and also heartbroken by the common struggles that Ghanaians and blacks in America faced.  After witnessing place violence in one of his concerts in Accra, Armstrong was moved to perform “Black and Blue.”  “My only sin is in my skin… what did I do to be so black and blue?”

For decades, American musicians have reached across borders with their music.  During the Cold War, Leonard Bernstein, the New York Philharmonic endeared themselves to thousands in Moscow playing Shostakovich.  Sarah Vaughan became one of the best-known Americans in the former Yugoslavia after performing in Belgrade in the 1970s.  In Berlin, just before the wall came down, Bruce Springsteen played to the adoration of countless fans.  In post-apartheid South Africa, Whitney Houston stood alongside a new president, Nelson Mandela. 

Here at the State Department, we’ve worked to bring people together through decades of music diplomacy.  And today, we’re launching a Global Music Diplomacy partnership that I believe and we believe can be transformational.

We’re so grateful, Lyor, to YouTube, not only for the incredible generosity and massive global reach but for the intellectual and creative partnership that this team brings to our endeavor.

So over the next several months, together, we’ll announce new types of English-language learning through music.  English-language learning is maybe our number one export.  There is an extraordinary thirst around the world, and the State Department’s been playing a leading role in doing that.  Now, bringing music to bear in this enterprise, I think, is going to take it to a whole new level.

We’ll set up grants for exchange alumni to use music to expand access to education and to jobs around the world.  We’ll support aspiring artists and musicians so that they can participate in and grow local creative economies.

At the heart of our partnership are our Global Music Ambassadors.  These are extraordinary musicians, recording artists, songwriters, producers who will travel the world, where they’ll perform for new audiences, engage with young people, collaborate with local performers, raise awareness around shared issues of interest.

And in all of the countries they visit – all of the communities that they touch – they’ll share a window – a window into American identity, American culture, American history, in all of its extraordinary diversity, and bring people together over the values, experiences, and challenges and hopes that we share.

Our Global Music Ambassadors hail from different backgrounds and different traditions.  We have a legendary rapper from Flushing, Queens, who inspired us to “fight the power.”  A 17-year-old blues rock virtuoso.  If you’ve not had a chance to listen to Grace, do it.  (Laughter.)  She’s keeping – not only keeping the blues alive, she’s taking it into a whole new generation, a whole new era.  A Grammy-winning country singer from a small town in Franklin Parish, Louisiana, and a member of the Grand Ole Opry.  Amazing.  A New Jersey soul singer shaking up country rap.  A tremendous mezzo-soprano hailing from our nation’s capital.  A famed songwriter from Illinois who is a tremendous advocate for the LGBTQI community and has written a generation’s worth of hit songs.

Those identities are a core part of their music.  But I believe the messages they convey transcend geography; they transcend genre of music.  They tell stories – stories of love and heartbreak.  Of self-discovery and growth.  Of insecurity and ambition.  Of oppression and discrimination.  Of compassion and empathy.

We live in a very different time than the era of Louis Armstrong and the Jazz Ambassadors.  But the need for connection, the need for community is as urgent, maybe even more urgent than it’s ever been.  And all of us – Americans, people around the world – we will be better for the ties that our new ambassadors will be forging.

So it is now my pleasure to welcome a true legend of the industry, someone who has constantly reimagined and transformed how people connect with – and through – music.

Lyor, the floor is yours.

MR COHEN:  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Secretary Blinken and Assistant Secretary Satterfield, thank you.  Thank you for your leadership on the Global Music Diplomacy and thank you for inviting us back to officially launch the next generation of Global Music Ambassadors. 

As a 21-year-old road manager of Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, I never would have imagined that I would have the opportunity and privilege to stand here in our nation’s capital, alongside all these inspiring artists and songwriters and distinguished members of state, and do something meaningful. 

Music, of course, has the power to heal and unite us, transcend differences, and help promote peace in this very fractured world.  YouTube, of course, is the world’s largest virtual stage, spanning over a hundred countries and 80 languages, reaching fans everywhere.  So as the global head of music for Google and YouTube, I can’t think of a better partnership for all of us to come together to promote global peace through music.

Our efforts will be anchored by this remarkable group of Global Music Ambassadors representing different genres of music, generations of people, races, and genders – differences that make our country so unique and our music so exceptional.

I want to welcome my friends Chuck, Armani, BRELAND, Denyce, Grace, Justin, and Lainey.  Thank you.  Thank you, all of you, for graciously accepting this global music ambassadorship. 

I also want to thank Herbie and Jelly Roll, Kane Brown, and Teddy Swims, of course, who unfortunately couldn’t make it here today, but have joined the family of artists that are going to make it happen.

And as the Secretary mentioned, this partnership is meant to empower and inspire.  We will focus on supporting music, creative economy globally, invest in local creative communities through microgrants, bolster English learning language, and showcase the unifying power of music through performance.  This work will be done in Australia, Canada, France, India, and Brazil – Brazil, a country that I recently visited and continue to be inspired by.

The challenges before us may seem insurmountable, but just like Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan and some of the great American Jazz Ambassadors of the last century heeded to public service to use their artistry to unite the world, to heal divisions, and prevent violence, let us meet these challenges head-on, and let’s do it eloquence and grace like those that came before us.

And with that, I would love to invite Chuck D and Lainey Wilson to join us and share what this initiative means to them.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MR D:  What a nice crowd.  (Laughter.)  Well, thank you, Secretary Blinken, and my career-long and honest mentor – we’re kinfolk – Lyor Cohen, and the other U.S. Music Ambassador appointees: Justin Tranter, Armani White, Lainey Wilson, Denyce Graves – it was a pleasure meeting you – (laughter) – BRELAND, and Grace Bowers.  And I’m honored to be standing next to all of here you today, and that’s for real – real talk, as we say.

Throughout my life and career, I’ve always believed in the power of music to change – create change and also change things – and also give voice to the voiceless, power to the powerless, and also truly inspire lasting social change.  Peace, like good music, is not easy to achieve.  It takes time, detail, persistence, resilience, refinements, honesty, and, yes, even creativity.  So, Mr. Secretary, I know you know that better than anything with the way you get down.  (Laughter.)

Today I was reminded – Lyor just said, and yourself and Lyor said – about the Jazz Ambassadors who stepped forward during a time of great divide.  You’re talking Louis Armstrong, you’re talking about Ella Fitzgerald traveling around the world in DC-7s when they were 50 or 60 years old, so we’re pretty sure we have it balanced out now – (laughter) – with great energy, the civil rights movement here in the USA and the Cold War globally, to travel and engage the world on behalf of the USA people.  And I know and if they could navigate those challenging times, then so can we, agreed?

MR D:  Now, it’s the time for us all, as USA. American, and music artists, songwriters, and producers to step up and do our part by sharing our talents, our time, our understanding of the real connections that we can make through music and culture, that we can not only engage younger generations – and how young is young right now, right?  Young could be under 40 – (laughter) – who will be and who already are our future leaders, and also encourage peace in the communities and countries worldwide.

I’ve been fortunate – and I started out with this guy behind me – at 116 countries out of the so‑called 214.  I’ve seen culture, music, and I’ve seen it move things in many ways.  And this is a serious appointment at an urgent time, and my good friend Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine and my partner in Prophets of Rage said it best:  You can’t wait for things to happen.  You’ve got to make it happen.

Now, I’ve said long – a long time throughout my career, outside my art and music, that culture and arts brings human beings together for our similarities and knocks the differences to the side.  Norman Granz was that person who took people around and worked with the U.S. Government at the time to take jazz artists across the planet in the 1940s.  But here we are, through the partnership with YouTube, where if you don’t physically get there, the virtuosity of the screens can have an accountability and responsibility to not just go there but also receive the art around the world and teach us how to have a better place here. 

And Lyor, amongst all the accolades that we’ve been saying – in my beginning of my career and he as a manager, I remember our first tours traveling to Germany.  And if you know anything about Germany, if you’re too young to know, the Iron Curtain was in full effect.  So if we’re playing West Germany at the time with a country split up into two, to be held accountable by the rest of the world and at then-United Nations, that they won’t become what they were, as a performing artist, rap and hip-hop, we’re going from West German towns, have to play Berlin.  There’s one road going to Berlin, and when you hit that area that you had to do the roadblock checks.  You would be wakened up if it’s in the middle of the night to take that one road, with dogs and flashlights to be able to get to Berlin, to play the show in Berlin, which is only West Berlin.

On the other side of this wall representing the curtain at the time, we’re on the radio, and on the other side we have just as many hip-hop, Public Enemy, Run-D.M.C. fans that’s on the west side.  But the eastern fans can’t get there, and the closest they get to the wall, they ain’t thinking about hip-hop at that wall.  So that all of a sudden became a issue that made us understand that our culture permeated all those barriers, all those divides.  The music went beyond even what the radio could do, because we had just as many fans on the other side.  And we happened to be playing Germany when the wall came down and opened up the world.

So the common goal was always hit people from culture to give, receive – not about going to a place, but also enjoying what they had to offer, hip-hop-wise, musically, culturally, so we could take it back home and spread that with the love that we got it. 

So this is nutrition – the common goal, hit people with culture.  It’s beyond governments, plural, but the responsibility for governments in this world collectively.  You don’t want the music and the culture to be run by government, so it’s not; nor do you want it to be run by industry.  So we as a culture in music have a wish and a demand and a dream to keep those two areas accountable, responsible, and to balance out this Earth to teach human beings true peace, not just in talk but in action.  And collectively, just like we all have to figure out how to take care of the climate and the environment, music is that message to teach all. 

So I thank you for this opportunity to make this thing better, so like this guy says, let’s go to work.  (Applause.)

MS WILSON:  I enjoyed that.  Every minute, every minute.  (Laughter.)

Good afternoon, y’all.  It is an absolute honor to be here today.  Secretary Blinken, Lyor Cohen, thank you so much.  My distinguished fellow U.S. Global Music Ambassadors – that just sounds cool, don’t it?  (Laughter.)  It just does.  And you might be asking yourself why in the world is a country artist from a town of 200 people in northeast Louisiana here at the State Department and willing to serve as a U.S. Global Music Ambassador.  Well, don’t worry.  At first, I asked myself that too.

This year, we have already toured Australia, the UK, Europe, and a funny story:  While I was visiting Germany earlier this year, my sister called from back home in Louisiana, and she said, “Can they even understand a word that you’re saying over there?”  I said, “Well, shoot, they can’t even understand me at home.”  (Laughter.)  I mean, no matter where I go, there’s a language barrier.

But all that to say – I mean, that’s the power of music and that’s the power of storytelling.  It truly does transcend language barriers.  While I was in Amsterdam, half the crowd was singing in English and half the crowd was singing in Dutch, and I learned my lesson about watching their mouths while I was singing, because I was about to start speaking Dutch and didn’t even know I could.  (Laughter.)  But what I have learned from traveling the world and playing music is we’re all actually a lot more alike than you think, and we have so much in common.  And to tell you the truth, I mean, that just – that gives me a whole lot of peace.

I am so proud and honored to be a U.S. Global Music Ambassador, and I give you my word that I’ll keep using my gift to try to bring as much peace to the people as I possibly can.  God bless you.  (Applause.)

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you, everyone, for being here today, and stay tuned.  (Applause.)

Official news published at https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-at-the-launch-of-the-u-s-department-of-state-youtube-global-music-partnership/

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