Conover, Willis, 1920-1996

Variant names

Hide Profile

Willis Clark Conover, Jr. was born on December 18, 1920 in Buffalo, New York. His father, Willis C. Conover, Sr., was an officer in the U.S. Army, and the family relocated frequently. Willis Conover Jr. later reported that he had attended 25 different schools before graduating high school. As a teenager, he struck up correspondence with science fiction and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, exchanging letters for several months before Lovecraft's death. During that time, Conover also co-edited the Science-Fantasy Correspondent. He briefly attended Salisbury State Teachers College in 1938-39, and joined the staff of the campus radio station. After winning a radio announcing contest, he relocated to Cumberland, Maryland, working at WTBO, where he soon became chief announcer. There, he discovered jazz and the music of Duke Ellington, and worked with pioneering writer and actress Peg Lynch. Conover was drafted and joined the U.S. Army in September of 1942, eventually achieving the rank of Technical Sergeant. His decision to select a better of assortment of music for a party at the Stage Door Canteen in Washington, D.C. led to part-time work at station WWDC, which became full time after his honorable discharge from the Army in February of 1946. Conover became known by the radio persona "the Gentleman Jockey," and also gained prominence as a concert promoter, building an extensive personal network with major jazz artists, many of whom he also interviewed at WWDC, including Duke Ellington. Conover helped to de-segregate the Washington, D.C. club scene by insisting that club owners admit anyone who was properly dressed for the occasion to events he promoted. During the late 1940s, he also went on tour for two weeks with the Ellington band, and did initial work for the Voice of America, along with recording U.S. Treasury broadcasts. After the death of Stalin, word reached U.S. diplomats about a resurgence of interest in jazz in the Soviet Union. Conover was initally the weekend host for the resulting program on the Voice of America, as an initial host, Ray Michael, had already been selected, but quickly moved to weekdays as Michael pursued other commitments. Conover leveraged his personal network to interview a series of top jazz artists on the VOA in 1955 and 1956. These interviews are listed in the National Recording Registry, and include interviews with Duke Ellington, Eartha Kitt, Marian McPartland, and Dave Brubeck. Conover's first overseas visit to Poland in June of 1959 made clear the extent of his positive reception by overseas listeners, and was the first of many visits to eastern and central Europe, the Soviet Union, and locations across Asia. Always an independent contractor in his work for VOA, he served as master of ceremonies for Newport Jazz Festivals, hosted a radio show on WCBS in New York, did voice-over work, and appeared on television. In 1969, he helped orchestrate Duke Ellington's 70th birthday celebration at the White House, where President Nixon played "Happy Birthday" on the piano for Ellington. Conover also continued to promote concerts by Bill Berry's New York Band, and at Town Hall in New York City. In 1975, he published Lovecraft at Last, chronicling his correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft four decades earlier. His health declined by the middle of the 1980s as decades of smoking led to bouts with cancer, but he continued to broadcast at the Voice of America until shortly before his death on May 17, 1996.
Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover. 1982 - 1993. Profile of Willis Conover
referencedIn Howard P. Lovecraft collection, Lovecraft (Howard P.) collection, 1894-1971 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover. 1982 - 1993. Interview with Edward de Fontaine and Robert Frease
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Sound Recordings Relating to Willis Conover's Jazz Program quot;House of Soundsquot;
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Hold File Photographs Relating to American Political, Cultural, and Economic Activities, Prominent U.S. and Foreign Personalities, and World Events National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover. 1982 - 1993. Ambassador of Note
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Sound Recordings Relating to Willis Conover's Jazz Program quot;Music with Friendsquot; National Archives at College Park
referencedIn Johnson, Budd. Manuscript Scores: Guide, 1910-1984 Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard College Library, HarvardUniversity
referencedIn Irving Berlin collection of non-commercial sound recordings [sound recording] The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Sound Recordings from Conversations with Willis Conover
referencedIn The Mel Powell Papers, 1942-1991, inclusive Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Inventory of the Science Fiction Archive of Otto Binder: SCI FI MSS 00147 ., 1927-1971. Cushing Memorial Library,
creatorOf MS Mus. 1032. Charlie Parker Papers: Vol. iii. Lots 50-82. Contracts, documentation of claims made through the American Federation of Musicians, letters including Chan Parker’s last letter to Charlie Parker; 1949-1955.ff. 130. 299 x 212mm.include..., 1949-1955 British Library
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover. 1982 - 1993. Video Recording of Jim Vance Interview with Willis Conover
referencedIn Willis Conover Collection, 1930-1996 University of North Texas. Music Library
referencedIn Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Video Recordings and Motion Picture Film Relating to the Work of Willis Conover. 1982 - 1993. Interview with Willis Conover
creatorOf Records of the U.S. Information Agency. 1900 - 2003. Sound Recordings Relating to Willis Conover's quot;History of Jazzquot; Program
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith 5th Dimension (Musical group) corporateBody
correspondedWith Ackerman, Forrest J. person
associatedWith Acuff, Roy person
associatedWith Adams, Edie, 1927-2008 person
associatedWith Adderley, Julian Cannonball person
associatedWith Ahmed Abdul Malik person
associatedWith Akiyoshi, Toshiko, 1929- person
associatedWith Allen, Steve, 1921-2000 person
associatedWith Allen, Woody person
associatedWith Armstrong, Louis, 1901-1971 person
associatedWith Arnold, Eddy, 1918-2008 person
associatedWith Avakian, George 1919- person
associatedWith Bacharach, Burt person
associatedWith Bailey, Pearl person
associatedWith Baker, Chet person
associatedWith Basie, Count, 1904-1984 person
associatedWith Bennett, Tony, 1926- person
associatedWith Berlin, Irving, 1888-1989 person
associatedWith Bernardi, Herschel person
associatedWith Bibb, Leon (Charles Leon) person
associatedWith Bigard, Barney person
correspondedWith Binder, Otto person
correspondedWith Bloch, Robert, 1917-1994 person
associatedWith Brand, Oscar person
associatedWith Breeden, Leon, 1921-2010 person
associatedWith Brookmeyer, Bob, 1929-2011 person
associatedWith Brown, Clifford person
associatedWith Brown, Les, 1912-2001 person
associatedWith Brown, Marshall person
associatedWith Brown, Ruth, 1928-2006 person
associatedWith Brubeck, Dave person
associatedWith Byrd, Charlie, 1925-1999 person
associatedWith Cahn, Sammy person
associatedWith Cain, Jackie person
associatedWith Cambridge, Godfrey, 1933-1976 person
associatedWith Candoli, Conte, 1927-2001 person
associatedWith Carlin, George person
associatedWith Carroll, Diahann person
associatedWith Carr, Vikki person
associatedWith Carter, Jimmy, 1924- person
associatedWith Castle, Lee, 1915-1990 person
associatedWith Chancellor, John, 1927-1996 person
associatedWith Clarke, Arthur C. (Arthur Charles), 1917-2008 person
associatedWith Cohn, Al person
associatedWith Coleman, Cy person
associatedWith Cole, Nat King, 1919-1965 person
associatedWith Condon, Eddie, 1905-1973 person
associatedWith Crosby, Bing, 1903-1977 person
associatedWith Crosby, Bob, 1913-1993 person
associatedWith Dale, Alan, 1926-2002 person
associatedWith Dean, Jimmy person
associatedWith De Paris, Wilbur person
correspondedWith Derleth, August, 1909-1971 person
associatedWith Dietrich, Marlene, 1901-1992 person
associatedWith Eckstine, Billy person
associatedWith Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974 person
associatedWith Ellington, Mercer person
associatedWith Elliott, Don person
associatedWith Ellis, Don person
associatedWith Ertegun, Ahmet M. person
associatedWith Ertegun, Nesuhi person
associatedWith Evans, Bill, 1929-1980 person
associatedWith Farmer, Art person
associatedWith Ferguson, Maynard, 1928-2006 person
correspondedWith Finlay, Virgil, 1914-1971 person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, Ella, 1917-1996 person
associatedWith Franchi, Sergio person
associatedWith Francis, Connie person
associatedWith Gabler, Milt, 1911-2001 person
associatedWith Garment, Leonard person
associatedWith Garner, Erroll person
associatedWith Gensel, John person
Getz, Stan, 1927-1991 person
associatedWith Gilberto, Astrud person
associatedWith Gillespie, Dizzy, 1917-1993 person
associatedWith Golson, Benny person
associatedWith Goodman, Benny person
associatedWith Gould, Morton person
associatedWith Grauer, Ben person
associatedWith Grimes, Tammy person
associatedWith Gulda, Friedrich, 1930-2000 person
associatedWith Hackett, Bobby person
associatedWith Hamilton, Chico, 1921-2013 person
associatedWith Hampton, Lionel person
associatedWith Handy, John person
associatedWith Hardin, Tim person
associatedWith Havens, Ritchie person
Healey, Dick. person
associatedWith Hentoff, Nat person
associatedWith Herman, Woody, 1913-1987 person
associatedWith Hines, Earl, 1903-1983 person
associatedWith Hirt, Al person
associatedWith Holiday, Billie, 1915-1959 person
associatedWith Holt, Will person
associatedWith Ian & Sylvia corporateBody
associatedWith Ives, Burl, 1909-1995 person
associatedWith Jamal, Ahmad, 1930-.... person
associatedWith Johnson, Lynda person
associatedWith Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973 person
associatedWith Jones, Quincy, 1933-.... person
associatedWith Jones, Thad person
associatedWith Kenton, Stan person
associatedWith Kershaw, Alvin L. (Alvin Louis), 1919-2001 person
associatedWith King, Teddi person
associatedWith Kitt, Eartha person
associatedWith Kral, Roy person
associatedWith Krupa, Gene, 1909-1973 person
correspondedWith Kuttner, Henry person
associatedWith Lane, Burton, 1912-1997 person
associatedWith Lateef, Yusef person
associatedWith Lea, Barbara person
associatedWith Lee, Peggy, 1920-2002 person
associatedWith Lehrer, Tom, 1928- person
associatedWith Levitt, Rod, 1929-2007 person
associatedWith Lewis, John, 1920-2001 person
associatedWith Lewis, Mel, 1929-1990 person
associatedWith Livingston, Jerry person
associatedWith Lloyd, Charles, 1938-.... person
associatedWith Lombardo, Guy person
associatedWith Lopez, Trini person
associatedWith Lovecraft, H. P. (Howard Phillips), 1890-1937 person
correspondedWith Lovecraft, H.P. (Howard Phillips), 1890-1937 person
associatedWith Lowe, Mundell, 1922-.... person
associatedWith Lynch, Peg, 1917- person
associatedWith Lynne, Gloria person
associatedWith Makeba, Miriam person
associatedWith Makowicz, Adam, 1940- person
associatedWith Maltby, Richard, 1937- person
associatedWith Mancini, Henry person
associatedWith Mann, Herbie, 1930-2003 person
associatedWith Manning, Dick person
associatedWith Martin, Freddy, 1906-1983 person
associatedWith Mathis, Johnny person
associatedWith McFarland, Gary person
associatedWith McKinley, Ray person
associatedWith McMahon, Ed. person
associatedWith McPartland, Jimmy, 1907-1991 person
associatedWith McPartland, Marian person
associatedWith McRae, Carmen person
associatedWith McWhorter, Charles K. person
associatedWith Mel Powell person
associatedWith Mercer, Mabel, 1900-1984 person
associatedWith Merrill, Helen person
associatedWith Mills, Donald, 1915-1999 person
associatedWith Minelli, Liza person
associatedWith Modern jazz quartet corporateBody
associatedWith Monk, Thelonious Sphere, 1917-1982 person
associatedWith Morgenstern, Dan. person
correspondedWith Moskowitz, Sam person
associatedWith Mulligan, Gerry person
associatedWith Nelson, Oliver, 1932-1975 person
associatedWith Nixon, Richard M. (Richard Milhous), 1913-1994 person
associatedWith Odetta, 1930-2008 person
associatedWith Orbison, Roy person
associatedWith Parker, Charlie, 1920-1955 person
associatedWith Paxton, Tom, 1937-.... person
associatedWith Peaches and Herb (Musical group) corporateBody
associatedWith Peter, Paul, and Mary (Musical group) corporateBody
associatedWith Peterson, Oscar, 1925-2007 person
associatedWith Powell, Bud person
associatedWith Previn, André, 1929- person
associatedWith Puente, Tito person
correspondedWith Quinn, Seabury, 1889-1969 person
associatedWith Randall, Tony, 1920-2004 person
associatedWith Rawls, Lou person
associatedWith Ray Charles Singers. corporateBody
associatedWith Richards, Johnny person
associatedWith Rich, Buddy, 1917-1987 person
associatedWith Rivers, Joan. person
associatedWith Roach, Max, 1924-2007 person
associatedWith Rodgers, Richard, 1902-1979 person
associatedWith Rogers, Shorty, 1924-1994 person
associatedWith Ross, Annie, 1930- person
associatedWith Rush, Tom person
associatedWith Rydell, Bobby person
associatedWith Sandler & Young corporateBody
associatedWith Sandoval, Arturo person
associatedWith Schifrin, Lalo person
associatedWith Scott, Tony person
associatedWith Seeger, Pete, 1919- person
associatedWith Severinsen, Doc, 1927- person
associatedWith Shearing, George person
associatedWith Shirley, Don, 1927-2013 person
associatedWith Silver, Horace person
associatedWith Sims, Zoot person
associatedWith Stillman, Al, 1906-1979 person
associatedWith Stitt, Sonny person
associatedWith St. Marie, Buffy. person
associatedWith Tatum, Art, 1909-1956 person
associatedWith Taylor, Billy, 1921-2010 person
associatedWith Teagarden, Jack, 1905-1964 person
associatedWith Terry, Clark person
associatedWith Thielemans, Toots person
associatedWith Thompson, Frank, 1918-1989 person
associatedWith Torme, Mel, 1925- person
associatedWith Uggams, Leslie person
associatedWith United States. Army corporateBody
associatedWith Valente, Catarina person
associatedWith Vaughan, Sarah, 1924-1990 person
associatedWith Ventura, Charlie person
associatedWith Warwick, Dionne person
associatedWith Wein, George person
associatedWith Wilder, Alec person
associatedWith Williams, Joe, 1918-1999 person
associatedWith Wilson, Flip person
associatedWith Winding, Kai person
correspondedWith Wollheim, Donald A. person
associatedWith Woods, Phil person
employeeOf WWDC-Radio corporateBody
associatedWith Zorthian, Barry, 1920-2010 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Brooklyn NY US
West Orange NJ US
Cumberland MD US
New York City NY US
Governors Island NY US
Rockville MD US
San Juan 127 PR
Silver Spring MD US
Alexandria VA US
Buffalo NY US
Fort Warren MA US
Cambridge MD US
Washington, D. C. DC US
Fort Holabird MD US
Subject
Cold War
Voice of America
Jazz
Radio
Diplomacy
Occupation
Concert agents
Songwriters
Radio broadcasters
Authors
Function

Person

Birth 1920-12-18

Death 1996-05-17

Male

Americans

English

Information

Permalink: http://n2t.net/ark:/99166/w6zt3mh3

Ark ID: w6zt3mh3

SNAC ID: 84976306