Once Kaye’s career took off, he began what would become his lifelong passion of philanthropy. In the 1940s, Kaye performed regularly for war bond sales and worked through the 1960s for the USO. In 1954, Kaye became the first Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF, a position he held for the remainder of his life. In the same year, Kaye began conducting major symphony orchestras in pension benefit concerts—an unusual career for someone who could not read music.

Danny Kaye in Korea

Danny Kaye, like many stars in the mid-twentieth century, traveled to war zones to entertain the troops. He toured Asia during the Korean and Vietnam wars performing for thousands of servicemen.

CPL Mervyn Lew, photographer. Comedian Danny Kaye Entertains Troops of the 5th RCT, 24th U.S. Infantry Division, during Show Held Near Kumsong, Korea, November 6, 1951. Photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00)

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Letter Regarding Fine's USO Participation

Sylvia Fine participated in many charity events throughout her career. Most of her work was in support of Jewish causes and musical theater causes. She also helped with war efforts alongside her husband, most notably by producing a USO Christmas special in 1958.

Letter from Holgar J. Johnson (USO) to Sylvia Fine, December 29, 1958, regarding Sylvia’s participation in producing the USO Christmas show. Holograph letter. Music Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00)

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Danny Kaye's War and USO Efforts

As soon as his career took off in the early 1940s with his Broadway and New York nightclub performances, Danny Kaye began participating in events to raise money for military efforts during World War II. He performed at USO shows and war bond sales throughout the 1940s and 1950s. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, he made frequent trips to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam to entertain troops and visit military hospitals.

Danny Kaye Talks to an Injured GI (Douerfel of Oklahoma) at the Casualty Staging Flight Unit, Tachikawa Air Base, Japan, 1961. Official USAP Photograph, Tachikawa Air Force Base. Music Division, Library of Congress (044.00.00)

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Danny Kaye On Board the USS Hancock

In March of 1966, right after an appearance at the London Palladium, Danny Kaye traveled to the Pacific Theater to visit and entertain troops in the Vietnam war. On the way, he and Vivki Carr landed on board the USS Hancock to perform for sailors at sea.

Danny Kaye entertains troops onboard the USS Hancock, March 1966. Music Division, Library of Congress (046.00.00)

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UNICEF Ambassador

In 1954, Danny Kaye was named ambassador-at-large for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). He was appointed by the executive director, Maurice Pate, whom he met by chance when they flew together from England to the United States. In this lifetime position, Kaye worked tirelessly to raise awareness and money for UNICEF by traveling the world on its behalf. One of his most important achievements was filming a movie on the work of UNICEF in Asia titled Assignment Children (1956), for which he received an honorary Oscar.

Homai Vyarawalla, photographer. Doctors look on as Danny Kaye, visits a little boy in a hospital in New Delhi, India, during a UNICEF tour. Photograph. New Delhi, India: V.I.P. Photo Service, 1954. Music Division, Library of Congress (047.00.00)

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UNICEF Trick-or-Treat Tour

In the mid-1960s, Danny Kaye started a program through UNICEF in which he would fly to as many U.S. cities on Halloween collecting donations at each stop. Children would dress up to meet Kaye at the airport and often city and state officials would attend. Kaye, an avid amateur pilot, would fly the plane himself.

Danny Kaye with children and reporters in Atlanta, Georgia, during the 1966 UNICEF Trick-or-Treat Tour. Photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (050.00.00)

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Kaye's Conducting

Danny Kaye’s career as a conductor started during his summers working at resorts in the Catskills. He began adding bits of humorous conducting of the band into his comedy routine, an act that continued throughout his stage career. In 1954, Philadelphia Orchestra music director Eugene Ormandy (1899–1985) asked Kaye to conduct a few pieces with the orchestra for a pension benefit concert. The event was a huge success, and Kaye quickly received similar requests from other orchestras. Although Kaye was unable to read music, he spent his later career conducting many of the world’s professional ensembles in benefit concerts.

Eugene Ormandy, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, to Danny Kaye, September 30, 1964. Holograph letter. Music Division, Library of Congress (052.00.00)

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Kaye Conducts the Yale Symphony

In the spring semester of 1976, Sylvia Fine taught a course at Yale University on the history of musical comedy, a topic that would lead to her PBS special Musical Comedy Tonight. Because of her relationship with the university, the Yale School of Music requested that Danny Kaye conduct the orchestra. In April of 1976, Kaye led the Yale Symphony in a concert to benefit scholarships.

Danny Kaye conducts the Yale Symphony in a concert on April 24, 1976. Photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (053.00.00)

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The Cleveland Orchestra

By the end of the 1970s Danny Kaye had conducted many of the world's major orchestras in benefit concerts, from the New York Philharmonic and Boston Symphony in America to the Gewandhaus Orchestra and London Symphony in Europe. His schedule during the 1970s was generally filled with UNICEF events and orchestra appearances. In May of 1978, he conducted one of America’s most renowned ensembles―the Cleveland Orchestra

An Evening with Danny Kaye and the Cleveland Orchestra, May 14, 1978. Concert program. Music Division, Library of Congress (054.00.00)

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Kaye Conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic

Danny Kaye maintained a close relationship with the Los Angeles Philharmonic throughout his career and specifically with its music director, Zubin Mehta, during the 1970s. On numerous occasions he conducted benefit concerts with the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl, and in 1947 lead a gala concert for their new hall.

Danny Kaye conducts the Los Angeles Philharmonic in a concert on November 10, 1974. Photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (056.00.00)

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UNICEF Canada Honours Danny Kaye

Danny Kaye’s tenure as Goodwill Ambassador to UNICEF lasted from 1954 through the end of his life. He was regularly honored by organizations related to UNICEF and philanthropy during this time.

UNICEF Canada Honours Danny Kaye, for 30 Years as Goodwill Ambassador, June 23, 1983. Event program. Music Division, Library of Congress (051.00.00)

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