Today is August 4, meaning it is time to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s “other” birthday (August 4 was a meaningless date to Armstrong, who sincerely believed he was born on July 4, but it’s the date on the baptismal certificate unearthed by Tad Jones so it gives us another reason to celebrate!). Last month, we shared a manuscript and photos from Louis’s birthday celebration on July 4, 1955 but wanted something special to share on this date as well–we think we found it!
Every July 4, Louis would be inundated with birthday telegrams from around the world. Interestingly, very few survive in our Archives except for the ones Louis himself used in scrapbooks or in collages, though a few did make it through such as this one from 1959 sent by Jeann “Roni” Failows and Paul Studer:
In 1950, Louis celebrated what he claimed was his 50th birthday at Bop City in New York. The following year (and actually every year between 1951 and 1954), he celebrated at the Blue Note in Chicago. He managed to save dozens of telegrams from both celebrations. Sometime in late 1951 or early 1952, Louis found himself hanging out at home with his longtime vocalist Velma Middleton and their friend, dancer Elsie Blow. Armstrong pulled out a stack of the telegrams, turned on his tape recorder and though no one else was in the room, immediately started addressing an imaginary audience: “Well, folks, we’re getting ready to read some telegrams from way back in the last year!”
For the next 15 minutes, Armstrong, Middleton and Blow read birthday telegrams until they abruptly ran out of tape. They turned the tape over and continued on Side 2, though Louis left for a while while Middleton and Blow took over. Eventually, they got sidetracked and began talking about other things, with Louis continuing to record for another hour or so but for today’s purposes, we have edited together the two birthday sequences and are thrilled to share them here on the “That’s My Home” site.
In the first part, you will hear them read greetings from Jack Oglesby, Lester Young, Tallulah Bankhead and Bill, Frank Holzfield (owner of from the Blue Note), “Little Miss Dynamite” (Selma Heraldo), Dave Garroway, Count Basie’s band (Jimmy Rushing, Dickie Wells, Danny, Walter Page, Buck Clayton, J. J. Johnson, Buddy Tate, Emmett Berry), Buck and Bubbles, Nat Middleton, Sammy “Face,” Jacques and Camille Boulon, Captain Eddie Jimmy John, Rasputin, Eddie Condon, Al Barnes, Don Redman, Dite Myers, George Williams, Willie Daly, Bobby Hackett (“Happy Chops for the next 50 years!”), Jackie “Moms” Mabley, Teddy Hill, Laurel Pierre, Bing Crosby and more! Here’s audio:
After abruptly running out tape, here is the continuation on the next reel, featuring greetings from “Big Sid” Catlett (who had passed away by this point), Myra Menville of the New Orleans Jazz Club, Marie Bryant, Dizzy Gillespie, Vermel Swain (“your masseur from Chicago”), Buck Clayton, Louis’ niece Elizabeth Rolle, disc jockey “Daddy-O” Daly from Chicago, Jack and Addie Teagarden, Maurice Durand from San Francisco, Juanita “Happy Talk” Hall, George Shearing, E.H. Smith, Lucille and Mac, Vicki, Johnny and Al Veigel, comedian Timmie Rogers, Al Barnes, Dr. Manuel Gottleib (dentist), Genevieve, Bernie Miller, Avonell and Dottie, Simone, Ernie Anderson, Amin David (“The Blue Mirror, Washington”), Charles Carpenter and more. Here’s the audio:
So there you have it! We actually have another tape with Armstrong and a different set of friends reading a different set of telegrams but we will save that for next year. And if you are looking for something to do today, we are hosting a birthday celebration over on our Facebook page from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. EST, then rebroadcasting from 7-10 p.m. EST, culminating in a live concert by Evan Christopher in New Orleans, sponsored by the Blue Note. Evan and myself will be the hosts and we will be talking about many of the initiatives the Armstrong House has undertaken since closing for the pandemic. We will be asking for donations throughout the day, too; if you can’t make the Facebook event but would still like to donate to support the ways we are continuing to tell Louis’s story (such as this “That’s My Home” site), you can always donate at the Support page on our website.
Thank you for your support–Pops is Tops!