The Turkish Embassy’s Surprising Role In Desegregating D.C. JazzBreaking News
tags: Washington D.C., Turkey, jazz, desegregation, Turkish Embassy
In 1930s Washington, two teens changed jazz forever. Their names were Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun.
What was a completely segregated art slowly — and somewhat secretly — began to integrate in the halls of the Turkish Embassy.
What’s now the Turkish Ambassador’s residence sits on Sheridan Circle in Northwest D.C., not far from Georgetown. The mansion dates back to the World War I era, and its ornate rooms are replete with dark carved wood, 16th century art and twinkling gold chandeliers.
In 1935, Ahmet and Nesuhi moved into the house with their father, Ambassador Mehmet Ertegun, and the rest of their family. The teenagers were huge jazz fans — it was the popular music of the time, after all — so for them, D.C.’s thriving jazz scene was like heaven.
“They arrived waiting and anxious and wanting to witness this music firsthand,” said Anna Celenza, a Georgetown University music professor and jazz historian. Soon after they arrived, they started going out to hot jazz clubs like the Howard Theatre on U Street. They saw musicians like Duke Ellington, Joe Marsala and Jelly Roll Morton.