Turkish Embassy celebrates its contribution to jazz

Published 17.02.2012 10:52
Updated 17.02.2012 10:53

A very special evening was held in Turkey’s Washington Embassy to commemorate the opening of their doors to black jazz musicians in the 1940’s at a time when segregation was at its worst in the United States.

The first performance for the Ertegün Jazz Series, held on Wednesday, brought out a number of congress members and mission chiefs who all rained praise on the Turkish Embassy, which since the 1940's has opened its doors to black jazz musicians, leading the way for a number of pioneers in the genre.

By becoming a safe haven and a place for promotion for jazz musicians in the 1940's when segregation reached a height in the U.S., Turkey's Washington Embassy has become a part of American jazz history. The Ertegün Jazz Series, held to commemorate Turkey's Washington Ambassador at the time Mehmet Münir Ertegün and mark the legacy of his sons Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, began last year. This year marks the second Ertegün Jazz Series and the first performance of the series was held Wednesday night by the Roy Hargrove Quintet.

The crowd that came out to watch the performance included U.S. Congress members John Conyers, Jim McDermott and Maxine Waters, U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom as well as a number of foreign mission chiefs.


The evening began with an opening address by Turkey's Washington Ambassador Namık Tan, followed by Lonnie Bunch the director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture, who expressed how honored he felt to be able to attend such a meaningful concert during Africa-American History Month.

Bunch explained how important the Turkish Embassy was to him by recalling a memory he relayed to the audience. "I was a freshman at Howard University in 1970. Those days, Washington was a very different city. There were areas where an African American just couldn't go. People had said to me, 'If you are ever near Dupont Circle and if something happens and you feel you are in danger then immediately throw yourself inside the Turkish Embassy.'

Turkey's Washington Embassy has always been a safe haven for us. It still is, but now it is also a safe haven for jazz lovers. I am proud to be here, because this is a place that used to have a lot of meaning in this city and it still does."

Ahmet Ertegün founds Atlantic Records…

The Ertegün Jazz Series, held in collaboration with the Jazz At Lincoln Center, is held in honor of Turkey's second Washington Ambassador Münir Ertegün and his sons Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün, whom at a time when segregation was at its height in the 1930's and 1940's, would open the doors of the Turkish Embassy residence for jazz musicians to rehearse and perform.
Münir Ertegün's sons Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün later founded Atlantic Records, one of the biggest record companies in the U.S., which helped make the likes of Ray Charles, Jesse Stone, Ben E. King, Neil Young and Aretha Franklin famous.
At that time, a senator from the south wrote a letter to Ambassador Ertegün stating, "Everyone knows how to treat the blacks, however you keep inviting them in through your front door. Isn't this a strange situation?
Ertegün responded by stating, "Yes, we always invite our friends in through the front door. If you come you will be accepted, however we will greet you from the back door which is where you will enter from."
Turkey's Washington Ambassador Namık Tan brought the embassy's famous jazz concert tradition back to life with the Ertegün Jazz Series in order to relive the shared history and to draw the public's attention to the support Turkey offered America's black Americans at a time when they were most challenged.

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