With today’s post, we will have covered 50 of the 200 or so tapes Louis Armstrong cataloged in the last two years of his life. We fully plan to reach the finish line but there’ll be a small break as we put the finishing touches on an epic Virtual Exhibit about Louis Armstrong’s relationship with comedy. We hope to have that ready to go next week, but until then feel free to catch up on the entire series with the following links: Reels 1-5, 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25, 26-30, 31-35, 36-40 and 41-45. (Also, our new Fellows have started their own blog about what they are researching and learning at the Armstrong House and Archives and they’ve come out of the gate with some sensational posts, which you can read over at the West End Blog.)
Accession Number 1987.3.345
Earlier in this series, we discussed Armstrong’s Reel 29, containing audio of two BBC shows from the 1960s, The Satchmo Story from 1965 and Armstrong’s appearance on Desert Island Discs from 1968. After cataloging 17 tapes, most originally created in the 1950s, Armstrong reached back to his BBC tape and cataloged it a second time as Reel 46. It’s the same content as Reel 29 (and remember, you can listen to Armstrong’s Desert Island Discs appearance here) but this time, Armstrong includes the address of a Roy Taylor in England on the bottom of his second catalog page. I’m assuming Taylor must have sent him the recordings and Armstrong noted it so he could send a thank-you note.
The front of the box has a fun photo of Tyree Glenn on an exercise bike in the 1960s. The photo was taken by Cathan Shonkier, a close friend of Armstrong’s in Toronto, who donated a copy to the Armstrong Archives in the early 2000s and annotated it “Tyree Glenn after golf” (Shoniker herself became a golf pro).
This is most definitely not Louis Armstrong’s handwriting on the back of the box so again, I’m assuming this is the aforementioned Roy Taylor.
Accession Number 1987.3.346
After such a long run of Armstrong re-cataloging tapes he originally made in the 1950s, we are now firmly back in 1970 for a series of tapes created by Armstrong from scratch. For Reel 47, he reached back to two of his Decca recordings and dubbed both Louis and the Good Book and Louis and the Angels, though interestingly, he copied one side of each at a time, starting with side 1 of Good Book, followed by side 1 of Angels and then flipping each LP to copy side 2 of each.
Side 2 opens with the conclusion of Louis and the Angels (note Louis refers to these Decca albums as “ARMSTRONG’S LATE RECORDINGS”). After that, he then grabbed a bunch of seemingly random recordings he had in his den: “Sing Me a Tune” by Marilyn Maye, something called “The Family” by Al Bernstein about a Jewish family that might be a demo (Google provides no clues), the title track of the Broadway show “Applause” (which opened March 30, 1970, which again points to April-May 1970 for the dates of these tapes), a Lionel Hampton single of “Brazilian Summer” and “The Ingenue” from 1966 on Glad-Hamp Records, a live 1950s recording of Billie Holiday doing “I Cover the Waterfront,” another Hampton single from 1970 of “A Sketch of Gladys” and “Cool Charlie,” Louis’s 1956 remake of “Song of the Islands,” and finally, Armstrong’s 1968 Brunswick single of “I Believe” and “Sunrise, Sunset.”
The collage on Reel 47 is from the same period, made up of a letter from Hugues Panassie and Madeleine Gautier of the Hot Club de France on the front and a French review of the film Hello, Dolly! (originally included with the letter) from December 20, 1969 on the back:
Accession Number 1987.3.347
Reel 48 opens with a demo recording of Lorenzo Pack’s composition “This Black Cat Has Nine Lives,” should Louis in preparation mode for the album Louis Armstrong and His Friends, which would be recorded at the end of May 1970 (more on Pack and that session can be found here). Armstrong then grabbed a handful of his singles from 1966-1968, dubbing each one twice: “The Bare Necessities,” “I Will Wait For You,” “Talk to the Animals,” “What a Wonderful World,” “The Bare Necessities” again, “Cabaret,” “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In,” “Mame,” “Rosie,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “The Life of the Party,” “The Bare Necessities” again, “You Are Woman I am Man,” “Northern Boulevard Blues,” “Day Dream,” “The Bare Necessities” yet again (!), “The Kinda Love Song,” “Someday,” “Wilkommen” and “I Believe.” (“Someday” and “You Are Woman I am Man” were originally recorded in 1964 but reissued on Kapp singles in 1968 with “The Life of the Party” and “The Kinda Love Song.”)
Side 2 opens with an old Decca 78 from 1940 with “Sweethearts on Parade” and “Cut Off My Legs and Call Me Shorty.” This is followed by what Louis first tells us are “Demo Recordings,” but he quickly writes “Gentry” next to that designation. Sure enough, it’s a series of songs featured in the Broadway production Gantry, which opened on February 14, 1970 and closed after 31 performances. Armstrong’s Broadway kick continues with another recording of the title track of Applause, but this is a demo version by an unknown singer and a clearly Armstrong-inspired trumpet solo; was Armstrong thinking about recording this song? There’s also a demo of something called “Romaine,” an instrumental with banjo lead that’s a mystery. After these detours, Armstrong fills up the rest of Side 2 with his 1957 version of “I’ve Got the World on a String” and complete dubs of his albums Disney Songs the Satchmo Way and Hello, Dolly, again dubbing one side of each before switching to their respective second sides. The sound quality of this tape is excellent, though Armstrong used 3 3/4 speed, resulting in a total running time of just over four hours!
Unlike Reel 47, this seems to be an older collage from the 1950s, repurposed in 1970 with the addition of white tape and the new reel number. The front features a charming photo of Louis and Velma Middleton with a happy couple.
The back features another photo of Louis with two happy fans. Under one piece of tape, you can make out his handwriting, “Side ‘2’, Empty,” meaning the original reel or box must have been empty so Louis got to utilize this older decorated box with the addition of a newly created reel.
Accession Number 1987.3.348
Reel 49 is another 1970 compilation but it’s a real hodge-podge that it seems was made with an eye towards Louis’s return to the stage; more on that in a minute. The reel opens with “You’re in New Orleans,” a demo of a song written by his friend “Creole Charlie,” real name Charles Levy (potentially the same Charles Levy who composed “35th Street Blues” for Jelly Roll Morton in 1924). This is followed by four of Armstrong’s solo features from his 1957 collaboration with Ella Fitzgerald on Porgy and Bess and his recording of “That’s For Me” with the All Stars in 1950. Then “Creole Charlie” takes over for a bunch of demos of his compositions before Louis ends the reel with “I Surrender Dear” from the same 1950 date as “That’s For Me” and one his Italian sides from 1967, “Dimmi, Dimmi, Dimmi.” Not much more is known about “Creole Charlie” but he did apparently co-write a song with Louis based on his laxative-inspired advice, “Leave It All Behind You.” Armstrong wrote to Levy on July 18, 1970 to say he was going to record it, along with “You’re in New Orleans,” and he told the same thing to Max Jones in a letter from August 15, 1970, but alas, the recordings never came to pass.
Now, a quick detour. As Louis’s health improved in 1970, he began plotting his comeback. One thing he did was to take Side 1 of Reel 49 and write the lyrics down of every song on the reel! He also created a little book of lyrics around this time that was done in alphabetical order but in this case, this reel spawned ten handwritten pages. We won’t share them all, but here’s a few!
Isn’t that fascinating? It must have taken quite some time, sitting there in his den, writing the lyrics to every song on Side 1. But when it came time to Side 2, it was time for another throwback as Armstrong stitched together a bunch of shorter tapes from the 1950s to create one long 90+-minute side. Matters open with four songs comprising the end of an All Stars set from the aborted tour with Benny Goodman from 1953 (most likely the May 1953 concert from Washington D. C. that appears on a few other tapes. This is followed by an absolutely charming segment where Velma Middleton and her family make a special tape for Louis, most likely during some rare time off in late 1957 or early 1958. Velma speaks so lovingly to Louis, brings on her mother and son (who sing “Throw Out the Lifeline” and “Chances Are” respectively), talks about dinner (and Swiss Kriss), introduces family members Dottie (who reads a poem) and Freddie (who sings “Gold Mines in the Sky Far Away,” “God Bless America” and “The Lord’s Prayer. Arthur Middleton then recites a poem, “The Policeman,” before Velma sings “Them There Eyes” and suggests it as a potential duet with Louis, something that sadly never came to pass (at least in front of a recording device). Velma then read a review of Louis’s December 1956 benefit concert in London and spun Sam Cooke’s “You Send Me,” even repeating it; I love the thought of Velma and Louis digging Cooke! After singing “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (another number she never performed with the All Stars), Velma signs off, ending yet another beautiful illustration of the bond and friendship shared between her and Louis (something that must have given Louis a strong dose of melancholy, listening in 1970, nine years after her untimely passing).
After dubbing four more of those 1950 Decca All Stars recordings Armstrong seemingly loved so much–“Panama,” “New Orleans Function,” “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” and “Bugle Blues,” Armstrong ended the reel with a home-recorded demo tape featuring six songs performed by Ann Baker, ironically the vocalist Velma replaced in Louis’s big band in 1942. Baker lived until 1999 and I’m not sure how much she spoke of her association with Louis, but Louis definitely admired her. In a letter to Joe Glaser on February 11, 1957, Armstrong wrote, “Speaking of wiper’s Ann Baker + her husband caught our concert in Bluefield West Virginia. She took a bow did a song with us (AFTER VELMA OF CORSE) and Ann damn near upset my show- she went over so big. Yassuh she stopped it cold. Good ol Ann. She always did that. Stopp a show? Huh” That’s nothing new for Ann Baker.”
That’s a long description of one side but hopefully it helps navigate what is one packed catalog page below!
The collage on Reel 49 has become one of our better-known ones, featured in exhibits and books. In February 1968, Louis had an audience with Pope Paul VI in San Remo, Italy (photos can be seen in Louis’s scrapbook here) and must have been added to the Pope’s mailing list. On August 10, 1969, the Pope sent Pops a blessing, which Louis promptly cut up and affixed to this very tape box! Here’s the front:
And for the actual blessing, note Armstrong changing a few lines to make it read, “Mr. and Mrs. Most Holy Father Louis Armstrong”!
Accession Number 1987.3.349
After all of that, we come to Reel 50 and maybe the shortest description we’ve featured on this series to date: two sides, completely made up of Jelly Roll Morton’s famed Library of Congress recordings. Simple!
And our final collage for now, with the front featuring an image of Louis from the 1938 film Going Places:
And on the back, a rare photo of Louis and his big band during World War II with Velma Middleton on the far left.
That makes 50! I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed these deep dive looks at these tapes (all of which can be listened to by creating an account and typing in the associated accession numbers on our Digital Collections). Stay tuned for our look at Louis and Comedy and maybe we’ll be back with another page-by-page examination of one of Louis’s scrapbooks after that but don’t worry, we’ll continue with the tapes in the not-too-distant future. Thanks for reading!