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Kansas City Moves Forward As The Only And Possibly Last UNESCO 'Music City' In U.S.

Andrea Tudhope
KCUR 89.3
Kansas City jazz musicians Chris Hazelton, left, and Todd Strait, right, perform for a small crowd at a press conference on Kansas City's UNESCO designation at Union Station Tuesday.

At Union Station Tuesday morning, city and community leaders unveiled the official logo for Kansas City's "Creative City of Music" designation from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Designer John Wagner, left, and Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner (no relation), unveil the official logo for Kansas City's designation as a UNESCO 'Creative City of Music.'

Designed by Hallmark artist John Wagner, the logo features a trombone, with the letters 'KC' formed out of a drum and drumsticks. The image was inspired by James Weldon Johnson's poetry book 'God's Trombones,' which he wrote after being moved by a church sermon during a 1918 visit to Kansas City.

In June, representatives from Kansas City, Missouri will travel to Poland to officially accept the UNESCO designation. Then in September, they will present a detailed four-year plan for the partnership.

The unveiling Tuesday came on the birthday of the late Kansas City jazz saxophonist Ben Webster — one of several local jazz musicians who went on to international acclaim. Webster grew up down the street from the Jazz district, at 24th and Highland. 

"This [history] is internationally recognized. It's time to recognize it at home," says Jacob Wagner, director of urban studies at University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Wagner says partnership with UNESCO is an opportunity to draw international tourists to areas in Kansas City beyond just downtown and the Plaza and reinvest in historic African-American neighborhoods where Kansas City jazz began. 

"We have a number of what I would call 'diamonds in the rough,'" Wagner says. "They need to be invested in and given the proper resources and time to make sure that everyone, who has carried the torch for generations in the black community, can begin to benefit from the history and that heritage in our city."

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wagner says Kansas City should be proud that it is only city in the United States with this designation. As for competition from other cities?

"Thankfully our President has taken action to make sure that doesn't happen," Wagner jokes.

In October last year, the Trump administration announced the U.S. would withdraw from UNESCO as of December 2018. That means Kansas City will be the last U.S. city to be a part of UNESCO's Creative Cities Network, at least under the current administration.

"For these next four years, we're the only game in town, we expect to play that game well," Wagner says. "We expect to take this on the road and do a number of things that will highlight our history, and why we have the designation we have."

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter @_tudhope, and email her at andreat@kcur.org.

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
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