Dizzy Gillespie Runs for US President, 1964. Promises to Make Miles Davis Head of the CIA

There comes a point in every nation­al elec­tion year when I reach total sat­u­ra­tion and have to tune it all out to stay sane—the non­stop streams of vit­ri­ol, the spec­ta­cles of elec­toral dys­func­tion, the ads, the ads, the ads. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. But imag­ine how dif­fer­ent­ly we could feel about pres­i­den­tial elec­tions if peo­ple like, I don’t know, Dizzy Gille­spie could get on a major tick­et? That’s what might have hap­pened in 1964 if “a lit­tle-known pres­i­den­tial cam­paign… had been able to vault the mil­lion­aires-only hur­dle.” What began as one of Dizzy’s famous prac­ti­cal jokes, and a way to raise mon­ey for CORE (Con­gress for Racial Equal­i­ty) and oth­er civ­il rights orga­ni­za­tions became some­thing more, a way for Dizzy’s fans to imag­ine an alter­na­tive to the “millionaire’s‑only” club rep­re­sent­ed by Lyn­don John­son and Bar­ry Gold­wa­ter.

dizzy for president

Gillespie’s cam­paign had “Dizzy Gille­spie for Pres­i­dent” but­tons, now collector’s items, and “Dizzy for Pres­i­dent” became the title of an album record­ed live at the Mon­terey Jazz Fes­ti­val in 1963.

A take on his trade­mark tune “Salt Peanuts,” “Vote Dizzy” was Gillespie’s offi­cial cam­paign song and includes lyrics like:

Your pol­i­tics ought to be a groovi­er thing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!
So get a good pres­i­dent who’s will­ing to swing
Vote Dizzy! Vote Dizzy!

It’s def­i­nite­ly groovi­er than either one of our cur­rent cam­paigns. Dizzy “believed in civ­il rights, with­draw­ing from Viet­nam and rec­og­niz­ing com­mu­nist Chi­na,” and he want­ed to make Miles Davis head of the CIA, a role I think would have suit­ed Miles per­fect­ly. Although Dizzy’s cam­paign was some­thing of a pub­lic­i­ty stunt for his pol­i­tics and his per­sona, it’s not unheard of for pop­u­lar musi­cians to run for pres­i­dent in earnest. In 1979, rev­o­lu­tion­ary Niger­ian Afrobeat star Fela Kuti put him­self for­ward as a can­di­date in his coun­try, but was reject­ed. More recent­ly, Hait­ian musi­cian and for­mer Fugee Wyclef Jean attempt­ed a sin­cere run at the Hait­ian pres­i­den­cy, but was dis­qual­i­fied for rea­sons of res­i­den­cy. It’s a lit­tle hard to imag­ine a pop­u­lar musi­cian mount­ing a seri­ous pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in the U.S., but then again, the 80s were dom­i­nat­ed by the strange real­i­ty of a for­mer actor in the White House, so why not? In any case, revis­it­ing Dizzy Gille­spie’s mid-cen­tu­ry polit­i­cal the­ater may pro­vide a need­ed respite from the onslaught of the cur­rent U.S. cam­paign sea­son.

Josh Jones is a doc­tor­al can­di­date in Eng­lish at Ford­ham Uni­ver­si­ty and a co-founder and for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of Guer­ni­ca / A Mag­a­zine of Arts and Pol­i­tics.

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Comments (9)
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  • Robert says:

    I was at the 64 Jazz Fes­ti­val and have a home 8 mm movie if it. At the evening per­for­mance, Diz was into one of his num­bers when all of a sud­den a guy went in front the stage wirh a flag which said “Diz for Prez” which total­ly broke him up. It took him a while to get start­ed again.

  • Robert says:

    I was at the 64 Jazz Fes­ti­val and have a home 8 mm movie if it. At the evening per­for­mance, Diz was into one of his num­bers when all of a sud­den a guy went in front the stage wirh a flag which said “Diz for Prez” which total­ly broke him up. It took him a while to get start­ed again.

  • barberi gianfranco says:

    I’m a film­mak­er and I’m work­ing on a project for a doc­u­men­tary suDizzy for pres­i­dent. I’m look­ing for any news and labo­ri­ous­ly print­ed mate­ri­als and videos on this top­ic. surf­ing the inter­net I found your post in which I learn that you were there that day when it was announced the can­di­da­cy of gille­spie and it also has a 8mm film. now I kind­ly ask if he is will­ing to send it to me in a vision. of course I would pay the trans­port costs. Pos­si­bly would be will­ing to lend it if I man­age to make this doc­u­men­tary.
    for now thank you for the time you want to devote.
    A cor­dial greet­ing.

  • RHCdG says:

    Remem­ber Alice Coop­er’s “Elect­ed” http://youtu.be/XKOMNP5nIjY

  • bethany harmon says:

    when did dizzy Gille­spie get can­cer?

  • kalieb says:

    this is cooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooool

  • Mister Brown says:

    Of course, Gille­spie nev­er had a chance. He cam­paigned into ear­ly 1964 and then, as Ramona Crow­ell said, “it sort of fiz­zled out.” Gille­spie declared again in 1972, but with­drew when he found out that run­ning for polit­i­cal office was against the prin­ci­ples of his new­found Baha’i faith.

    “I liked the idea of run­ning for pres­i­dent, and it would’ve been nice to be elect­ed,” he wrote in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, and then revealed the tremen­dous heart behind an appar­ent joke:

    “I’d have fought for a dis­ar­ma­ment pro­gram and the estab­lish­ment of a world gov­ern­ment, some­where … I would see that every­one had enough to eat and some clothes and a decent place to stay. Every­body, every cit­i­zen, is enti­tled to that. Edu­ca­tion would be beau­ti­ful, free, sub­si­dized by the gov­ern­ment. All of it. Any­time you want­ed to learn some­thing, I’d pay you to do it. Hos­pi­tal­iza­tion would also be free.

  • Harold Wilson says:


    Do you still have that footage of Dizzy at the 64 Jazz Fes­ti­val?

    Harold, Lon­don, UK

  • Odilo says:

    Hel­lo Robert, my name is Odi­lo; I am a music jour­nal­ist and radio mak­er from Ger­many spe­cial­ized in jazz. I am cur­rent­ly work­ing on a lec­ture about Dizzy Gille­spies pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign 1963/64 to be held in front of radio col­leagues and sci­en­tists. I read your post about a home movie about Dizzys fes­ti­val per­for­mance, where a guy with a flag which said “Diz for Prez” entered the stage. Do you still have that mate­r­i­al? Do you have it in a dig­i­tal for­mat? If so, would you make it avail­able to me for that pur­pose? That would be won­der­ful…
    All the best wish­es

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