Jazz Drummer Alvin Queen Denied Entry to U.S. Due to Dropped Charges From 50 Years Ago
Former Oscar Peterson drummer Alvin Queen, 67, has been denied entry to the United States by Homeland Security, based on a “run-in with the law” 50 years ago, forcing him to miss a performance at Jazz Meets France in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 15 at the behest of the French-American Cultural Foundation. The charges -- one a DWI, the other a minor drug offense -- both resulted in dropped charges.
The concert, for which Wynton Marsalis is Honorary Chairman and Smithsonian Institution secretary Dr. David Skorton is Master of Ceremonies, commemorates the centenary of the U.S. entry into World War I and specifically honors the Harlem Hellfighters (the 369th Infantry Regiment), composed mainly of African-American soldiers who served in WWI. (Perhaps ironically, the infantry and the 369th Infantry Jazz Band, also known as the Hellfighters, helped introduce American jazz to Europeans.)
“Since I posted the communique [on Facebook], I've received several offers of lawyerly help, notably from Oscar Peterson's lawyer in Los Angeles,” Queen's manager Jean-Pierre Leduc told Billboard in an email. “However, we know these matters move at a snail's pace unless one is a huge music superstar, therefore I doubt if this could be resolved before he was slated to go to the U.S.A. at the end of this month. Getting these things sorted quickly is usually only possible when the artist is a household name. It's really about money, not justice. I have a call in to Senator Charles Schumer's office, as he's in New York, which is also Alvin's birthplace.”
Queen, born in Mount Vernon, New York, has held a Swiss passport for the past 30 years and was a dual citizen with the U.S. until 2016. Over the years, he's worked with Nina Simone, Horace Silver, George Benson and Ruth Brown, among others. According to Leduc's Facebook post, Queen has worked “numerous times” for the U.S. State Department as a cultural ambassador, touring Brazil, Africa and Japan on its behalf. He also performed at the American International Jazz Day in Paris several years ago.
“Mr. Queen has held a U.S. passport, and regularly worked under the auspices of the American government, for over 50 years of his life,” it states. "He was informed this week that, due to a run-in with the law as a youth, a half century ago, while a minor, he would have to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Dept of Homeland Security, despite the fact he was born in the U.S.A.”
“I believe it was 1967, when he was not yet 17,” Leduc tells Billboard, “He was swept up in a drug raid with other musicians, as was then common. Charges were dropped, but the information remained in FBI files, five decades later. I believe there was a DUI later on, but Alvin was never charged. What is astonishing is that suddenly, after decades of contributing as a taxpayer and after giving to the community through music, he is persona non grata, treated like a petty criminal.”
For Queen to participate in Jazz Meets France, Leduc wrote, “The U.S. State Department had only to apply for an O1B work visa in order for Mr. Queen to enter in the United States. This was done correctly, but after the process was completed, fingerprints matching a 1967 FBI file were dredged up and presented as a reason to prevent him from entering the U.S.A. So now we can see that the infamous ‘travel ban’ is not limited to citizens of Sudan, Syria and Iran. It extends to a then-16-year-old drummer who once sat in with John Coltrane.”
In the Facebook post -- more of a press release posted to Facebook, really -- Queen also weighed in on his situation. "Funny thing, I gave up my U.S. passport to make life simpler at tax time. I never dreamed I would one day be denied entry, and with such ridiculous reasoning... I feel this is more about racial profiling than anything. It’s all about trying to control everyone. I am not a criminal and in fact never was. When I became a Swiss citizen, I 'became a criminal' again in the eyes of U.S. law enforcement. If I was undesirable 59 years ago, why have I been issued a fresh passport every 10 years for the past six decades?
“If someone wants to apologize to me and make this right, fine,” Queen continued. “But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’ll bring my music, this American art form, to every other country in the world. I know they like me in Canada. I’ll start there.”