After our multi-part look into the 1970 album Louis Armstrong and His Friends, it’s once again time to return to our “That’s My Home” theme and provide another glimpse into what Louis Armstrong did in his spare time off at home.
We’re continuing with the year 1970 (does anyone believe that was actually fifty years ago??), which could be summed up as Louis’s Last Stand. Two stints in the emergency room in 1968 and 1969 left him at death’s doorstep, but he wasn’t ready to go in just yet. Back home, his doctors begged him to retire, while devoted wife Lucille oversaw a renovation of their home that cost tens of thousands of dollars (hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2020 money). One thing Lucille did to entice Louis was to renovate his den, installing brand new Tandberg tape decks as a way to entice him to pick up his old reel-to-reel tape habit, something that had waned through much of the 1960s.
In addition to getting back into making tapes, Louis also began compiling scrapbooks from scratch, getting through a handful before his passing. Today’s entry will take you deep inside Armstrong’s first scrapbook from 1970, while future entries will be devoted to others in the series.
This guided tour must begin at the beginning so here is the cover, which Louis numbered “1” using a kind of white athletic tape:
On the inside cover, Louis used the same white tape to form a frame around an old drawing of him Associated Booking used to use as a publicity photo. Directly below, a photo Jack Bradley shot of Louis singing at the Riverboat nightclub in New York on June 15, 1969 (about a month after he got out of intensive care, determined to show he would be “back on the mound again,” as he used to say). Armstrong humorously captions the bottom photo, “OH YEA?”
The first actual page introduces one of the themes of the scrapbook and the theme of this site: Louis and Lucille’s Corona, Queens home. This is a photo of a painting of Louis that was done by African American artist Calvin Bailey in the late 1940s, based on an Anton Bruehl photo of Louis that originally appeared in Vanity Fair in 1935. It still hangs in the living room of the Louis Armstrong House Museum today.
Next up, something completely different and also introducing another recurring theme of the scrapbook: a memento from Louis’s 1968 trip to Italy where he performed at the San Remo Song Festival. There, Louis hit it off with Italian singer Lara Saint Paul, who became a cherished pen pal of sorts in the last years of Armstrong’s life. Here’s a photo of Lara Saint Paul and Pier Quinto Cariaggi’s infant daughter, Manuela Cariaggi, inscribed to her “Uncle Pops.” (Lara Saint Paul passed away in 2018 but Manuela Cariaggi is still alive; hope she sees this!)
Then it’s back to Corona. Almost all of the color photos in the beginning of the scrapbook come from the same occasion, a visit to the Armstrong’s home by some friends–who still remain unidentified. The woman appears in the photo below at the dining room table with Lucille, while the man will appear in a later photo in Louis’s den (could it be clarinetist Peanuts Hucko?). If anyone knows, write in! But in the meantime, more glorious photos of the Armstrong’s dining room and Louis and Lucille in the den:
So far, Louis has rather uncreatively stuck photos in the cellophane sleeves of each page. But beginning on the next page, he returned to another old hobby we have covered in detail, making collages. As usual, he cut up whatever was nearby and used Scotch tape to adhere the finished product to each page. The first one is made up of a 1968 publicity photo printed up after he had lost a lot of weight:
Next, a real hodge-podge of photos, mostly of children we assume (but can’t be too sure) were from his Corona, Queens neighborhood. The photo of the gathering with Louis and Lucille at the bottom is quite touching; seeing this is only 50 years ago, could any of those neighbors or their descendants still be alive? There’s also a small photo of a trumpet player at the microphone–anyone know him?
The next collage is also heavy on photos of children and families; I don’t believe the Santa at the bottom is Louis but I can’t say I’m certain. The woman at the top left is Jean “Roni” Failows, posing in a photo taken by Jack Bradley in front of a giant Armstrong advertisement that is now part of our Archives!
Then it’s back to Queens for two more photos from the mystery visit. In the first, Lucille is sitting in Louis’s den with their Schnauzers, Trumpet and Trinket.
Louis didn’t leave home much in 1969 but on December 3, he took part in an Actors Youth Fund tribute to Harold Gibbons, Vice President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, at the Hotel Americana. The event was hosted by Joey Adams, who hosted an Actors Youth Fund tribute to Louis at Carnegie Hall in 1965, and featured speeches by Joe E. Lewis, Rodney Dangerfield, Virginia Graham and Pat Henry. Here are two photos from that night:
If you’ve been following our “That’s My Home” site since April, you’ve undoubtedly seen this next photo of Louis adjusting his stereo equipment in his den but now you know that this scrapbook is the source for it:
Again, we don’t know the exact date Armstrong compiled this scrapbook but our guess is he started it in early 1970, judging by the December 1969 photos of the Harold Gibbons event early on. But he took the occasion to reach for a number of telegrams he received for his 69th birthday in July 1969 and filled the next several pages with them, saving them, as he liked to say, “for posterity.”
First, though, he opened with one from 1966 sent by his one-time, short-time nemesis, President Dwight Eisenhower, whom he publicly criticized for his handling of the Little Rock school integration crisis in 1957. Clearly, Ike didn’t hold a grudge against Louis.
The 1969 telegrams began with well-wishes from Joe Glaser’s secretary Frances Church, French jazz historians Hughes Panassie and Madeleine Gautier and Myra Menville of the New Orleans Jazz Club:
The next batch come from some personal acquaintances, including the mysteriously named “Margie in the locker room in Phoenixville.”
The third page of 1969 telegrams include one from Mary Collins of Chicago (Armstrong’s early 1930s manager Johnny Collins was from Chicago and had a wife named Mary–could it be?), dancer (and occasional mistress) Elsie Blow and famed dancer and choreographer Marie Bryant:
The final page of birthday wishes includes a surprisingly heartfelt and personal telegram from then President Richard Nixon:
After the birthday greetings, it was time to return to Queens for a photo of Louis in his den with the mystery man I mentioned earlier could potentially be clarinetist Peanuts Hucko. Interestingly, an examination of the book Louis is leafing through appears to show what would be scrapbook “2” in this 1969-1970 series. We will cover that one in a future entry and it does contain more 1969 images than this one so it’s possible that one was already finished and Louis’s numbering system was rather arbitrary instead of denoting the order in which they were created.
From Corona, Queens to Marseilles, France, Louis Scotch taped New Year’s wishes for 1970 from French pianist Alain Balalas and his family, dubbed the “Balalas International Sweethearts of Rhythm”:
Then back to Italy, where Louis, Lucille, Lara Saint Paul and husband Pier Quinto Cariaggihad an audience with Pope Paul VI during their trip to San Remo in February 1968. Here’s some lovely photos of that visit. Louis loved telling the story of his visit with Pope Pius XII in 1949, when the Pope asked him if he and Lucille had any children and Pops responded, “No, Daddy, but we’re still wailing!” But in these photos, he looks much more reverent in the presence of the head of the Catholic Church:
From Italy to a fine Italian-American musician, here’s Louis with clarinetist Tony Parenti at an unknown event c. 1969-1970. Parenti was born in New Orleans in 1900 and though he leaved near Louis in nearby Elmhurst, Queens, he referenced their Crescent City bond by inscribing the photo with the word, “Hometown.”
On March 4, 1970, Louis and Lucille took part in a “circus benefit” for UNICEF at F. A. O. Schwarz. Louis was sent an entire album of photos from that evening which make up another of his scrapbooks, but back home in Queens, he chopped up some mementos from the evening to make the following collage:
Lara Saint Paul and daughter Manuela make another appearance in this signed photo:
And the mystery woman from the Corona, Queens visit makes a final appearance with Louis in his den:
Drummer Ted Easton led a popular New Orleans-styled jazz band in the Netherlands, one that backed many friends of Armstrong’s over the years, including trumpeters Nat Gonella and Bobby Hackett. Easton sent Armstrong a few of his recordings and this photograph; Louis dubbed the records to tape and slipped the photo into this scrapbook:
Back to 1969 birthday wishes with this telegram from British friends Max Jones, Jack Hutton and Alan Walsh of Melody Maker. In 1970, Jones would begin working on a biography of Louis, sending Armstrong dozens of questions, which he answered in the summer. Jones and John Chilton’s subsequent book, Louis, was published in 1971 and is extremely valuable for the amount of direct input from Armstrong himself. (Perhaps a future installment of our “That’s My Home” site could be devoted to the tapes Armstrong made for Jones…)
The next is another letter Louis Scotch-taped to the page, a very sweet message from B. E. Bennke of Modern Products, praying for Louis’s health and happily agreeing to send a gift package to Louis’s friend Clayton Joseph. But what was the gift? I honestly didn’t know until I began Googling “Modern Products” and Google automatically filled in the rest: “Swiss Kriss”! Sure enough, Modern Products is still the maker of Louis’s favorite laxative so it’s not surprising that Louis had a personal relationship with the company.
It’s hard to top Swiss Kriss so we’re going to conclude part one now, but we will return next Monday with more page-by-page analysis of this precious scrapbook.