April 25, 2017

Roy Clark: Pickin' And Grinnin' For Soviets As Country Music's Goodwill Ambassador

Themes of World Peace And Friendship Highlight Roy Clark's Soviet Tour

by Jon Stevens
Roy Clark on stage
Roy Clark on tour: "A message of love and peace
from our people to their people."

When one imagines an Emissary of Peace representing America in the Soviet Union, a husky country music singer from Tulsa is not the first image that comes to mind. But then, emissaries are not always musicians, and Roy Clark is no ordinary performer.

Clark, best known for his pickin' and grinnin' on television's Hee Haw program, became the first country music entertainer to perform in the Soviet Union in 1976. He is returning there Nov. 15-27 for a concert tour of Soviet cities including Moscow and Leningrad.

"This whole tour is to bring people closer together," spoke the country music star. "I believe that the problems of this world can be solved by the people of this world. When we went to the Soviet Union in 1976, it was obvious to me then that people are just people, all over the world. Only governments are different."

Clark believes his musical appearances will accomplish much more than provide diversion for the Russian people. During his first Soviet tour twelve years ago, his concerts created a politically non-threatening atmosphere for U.So Embassy and Soviet officials to come together. As a result, meetings were set up between both factions to frankly discuss the issues confronting them, something the U.S. officials had been unable to arrange for years.

"We were told by the people there in the American Embassy that we did more good than we would ever realize in our lifetime," said Clark.

Clark's new single, What A Wonderful World, recently recorded for Hallmark Records and due to be released in an album next month, will be a featured high spot in the Soviet performances. The song, a country music adaptation of the tune of the same name made famous by singer Louis Armstrong in the forties, aptly expresses the sentiments of the tour: Peace and Friendship among all peoples of the world.

"This song speaks of the positive things of this world, not the negatives," emphasizes the entertainer of Hee Haw fame. "This is the only world we've got, and we've got to learn to live in it together."

"We expect the song to be a hit," spoke Tommy Martin, President of Hallmark Records, "not only with Soviet audiences, but with people here as well. The response from concert-goers and radio stations thus far has been better than anticipated."

Roy Clark and Bob Hope at fund raising banquet
for Clark's Soviet tour.

Plans for the Soviet tour were first officially announced at a fund raising banquet in Nashville last September entitled "A Salute To Roy Clark." More than a dozen well-known comedians, singers, actors and politicians including Brenda Lee, Sen. Albert Gore, Jr. and Bob Hope cracked jokes and praised Clark's goodwill efforts in order to help pay for his "Friendship Tour."

"Roy Clark is going to Russia," said Hope. "They'll love him over there. It'll be fifty more points for our side."

Additional finds for the tour were raised through "Friendship Cards," special tokens of support given by well-wishers at Clark's concerts in the U.S. this past year. In return, Clark has promised to send each donor a postcard from Moscow as a keepsake and a remembrance that they were a part of his tour for Peace.

"I'm going to display these cards on stage and explain to the Soviet citizens this is a message of love and peace from our people to their people," spoke Clark. "On the final night, I'm going to present them to Mr. Gorbachev, and he has indicated that he will put them on permanent display in a Friendship House."

Clark's decision to go on the current Russian tour was in part prompted by an invitation from the Soviet Premier himself. "Gorbachev wanted to expand the relations between the entertainers of our countries," said Clark. "He personally invited Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder and myself back, because I had been there before."

Does Roy Clark have other international concert tours planned for the future? "There's a possibility," replied the entertainer, "that this tour could lead to a more extended tour of the Soviet Union later on, and we've also discussed the possibility of going to Red China."

For the present, it's the Soviets who will savor the unique musical charms of this unlikey emissary—blue jeans, country banjo, fiddle and all. He'll sing and they'll feel, if but for fleeting moments, what it feels like to be an American.

*Reprinted with permission, Better World Magazine

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