In 1964 the “fate of the free world,” ahem, came down to a contest between two men, Democratic President Lyndon Baines Johnson and the Republican challenger, Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator from Arizona. History tells us that the contest was decided in favor of Johnson, but the whimsically inclined can entertain another outcome in a parallel universe—John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie as U.S. President.
In that heady year the notion of Dizzy for President was a little bit of a thing in the culture, as the famous trumpeter, by then synonymous with bebop itself, announced his intention to become chief executive of the land. Dizzy even announced that his running mate would be Phyllis Diller.
As Barry McRae wrote in Dizzy Gillespie: His Life and Times:
Goldwater was a conservative who had voted against the civil-rights bill and exploited the ‘redneck’ backlash or favouring the “freedom not to associate.” At a Republican meeting he declared that “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.”
That such a man could be considered for the presidency worried Gillespie enormously, and when jazz writer Ralph Gleason suggested that Dizzy himself had better credentials for the job, he began to take the idea seriously. Gleason began to use his jazz column to promote his possible candidate. He pointed out Gillespie’s skill with people of all nationalities and the success of the State Department tours. Jon Hendricks put presidential words to Salt Peanuts and Dizzy himself thoroughly enjoyed the whole operation. …
He postulated a change of colour for the White House, suggest Bo Diddley as secretary of state and told doubters that he was running for president because “We need one.”
Gillespie promised that if he were elected, the White House would be renamed “The Blues House.” He proposed the following provocative positions: Duke Ellington (Secretary of State), Miles Davis (Director of the CIA), Max Roach (Secretary of Defense), Malcolm X (Attorney General—“because he’s one cat we definitely want to have on our side”), Charles Mingus (Secretary of Peace—“because he’ll take a piece of your head faster than anyone I know”), Ray Charles (Librarian of Congress), Louis Armstrong (Secretary of Agriculture), Mary Lou Williams (Ambassador to the Vatican), Thelonious Monk (Traveling Ambassador). The campaign buttons that Gillespie’s booking agency had produced some years earlier “for publicity, as a gag” were now enlisted in the effort; proceeds from them would benefit the Congress of Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and Martin Luther King Jr. He advocated U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, promised free education and health care, and pledged to put an African-American astronaut on the moon (if none could be found, Gillespie volunteered to go himself).
In 1963 Gillespie released Dizzy for President, which included as its final track “Vote Dizzy,” for which singer Jon Hendricks supplied new political lyrics to Gillespie’s trademark tune “Salt Peanuts” as follows:
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!