“The Kiss of Joy”: Enrico Tomasso Remembers Louis Armstrong

This is slightly different edition of “That’s My Home,” but that title phrase will come back in a big way towards the end of this post. (We should mention that we have some very exciting “Hanging With Hyland” segments in the can, but we’re still doing some edits and should have them ready for next week!)

In June 1968, Louis Armstrong flew to England to capitalize on the overseas success of “What a Wonderful World.” Upon arriving at the airport in Leeds, Louis was greeted by the sounds of “Basin Street Blues” being performed by 7-year-old trumpeter Enrico Tomasso and his father, Ernie, on clarinet. Louis stopped in his tracks and was transfixed by the sounds coming out of young Rico’s horn:

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When the Tomassos finished, Louis shook Rico’s hand…

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….and promptly kissed it! Upon autographing a copy for his friend Jeann “Roni” Failows, Louis inscribed it “The Kiss of Joy.”

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Louis became infatuated with Enrico’s trumpet and inspected it so he could order a similar model immediately.

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Louis was heading to Yorkshire to begin a two-week engagement at the Batley Variety Club. He invited Enrico and his family to every performance and sat with him backstage to dispense wisdom about music and life (more on that in a bit). After his opening night, Armstrong sat for an interview with the BBC’s Steve Allen. Though he hadn’t memorized Enrico’s name yet–calling him Pedro (“Pee-dro”) at one point–these excerpts from the interview illustrate how moved he was by the playing of the 7-year-old.

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Shortly after returning home from his European trip, Louis wound up in intensive care with heart and kidney ailments. News reached the Tomasso family, who sent Louis a get well tape with the entire family playing and singing. Here is an excerpt:

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The Tomasso family even sent Louis some photos, which Louis added to one of his later scrapbooks, even annotating them:

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Louis continued to correspond with the Tomasso family and even had one more reunion with them during his last trip to England in 1970, from which this photo was taken (courtesy of Enrico Tomasso):

Enrico and Louis corresponded until the very end of Armstrong’s life. In August 1971, the Tomasso family got a gig at the Inner Circle in New York City. The New York Post covered it, as seen in this clipping, personally saved by Lucille Armstrong:

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As heard in the BBC interview above, even Louis wasn’t sure if Enrico would stick with trumpet but predicted that if he did keep playing until he was about 17, “Nobody could touch him.” Well, fortunately us, Rico did stick with the trumpet and has had a fabulous career, still based in England and winning multiple British Jazz Awards in recent years.

In 2017, he finally made the pilgrimage to the Louis Armstrong House Museum:

He even brought along some of the original photos from his 1970 visit with Louis:

On August 4, 2020, the Louis Armstrong House Museum celebrated Louis’s “other” birthday with over 3 hours of original content on Facebook, hosted by Evan Christopher and Ricky Riccardi. The theme was how musicians around the world and how the Armstrong House and Archives are all coping with the pandemic. Multiple musicians appeared on camera to discuss ways in which they are using technology to engage worldwide audiences in lieu of losing their in-person gigs and we explored the ways we have been spotlighting Armstrong’s pioneering use of technology right here on our “That’s My Home” site. (The entire event was set up as a fundraiser; if you’re so inclined, you may still donate to us on Support page here–many thanks!)

All of the segments were wonderful and we here at the Armstrong House are supremely indebted to Evan and to all the musicians from around the world who participated in the birthday celebration. But perhaps the most emotional sequence was our conversation with Enrico Tomasso, who told the story of his relationship with Louis (he even showcases a letter at one point and relates some of Louis’s advice), talks about his popular “Pop Up Louis” series on Facebook Live and performs two wonderful numbers, “Skip the Gutter” backed by Andrew Oliver on piano, and “That’s My Home” backed by Spats Langham on guitar and vocals. Here is the entire segment.

And because it’s the theme song of this very site, we excerpted Rico’s touching version of “That’s My Home,” set to a series of images of Louis and Lucille Armstrong in their Corona, Queens home through the years. Feel free to share it as we think it’s truly something special.

Once again, thank you to all who participated in the birthday celebration and especially to Evan Christopher who really went above and beyond in rallying the troops and editing all the videos. And thank you for everything you continue to do to spread Louis Armstrong’s music and message, Rico–Pops would be proud!

Published by Ricky Riccardi

I am Director of Research Collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

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