Earlier this week, we published the first part in what will be a series of posts devoted to the tapes and collages Louis Armstrong made in the final weeks of his life. The response to it was so positive, we have decided to expand the series to also include posts devoted to interviews, photographs and writings that also survive from this time period, given that the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s passing is approaching on July 6.
Today’s entry will be devoted to the first major interview Louis and Lucille Armstrong gave after Louis returned from the hospital in May 1971, conducted for the German magazine Jasmin. Personally, I drew heavily from it in my 2011 book What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years, but I don’t think it has been read by many Armstrong fans or scholars outside of those who might have the original magazine or those who might have read it in our Archives.
Armstrong returned from the hospital on May 8, 1971 in dire shape, having really had a life-or-death struggle in his nearly two months in intensive care at Beth Israel Hospital On May 23, the Armstrong’s invited Lucille’s closest friend, Lossye Smith and her husband Clayton Joseph, over for dinner. Apparently, Louis was in good spirits throughout, which must have made Lucille comfortable with accepting a request from reporter Miriam Sandford to conduct an interview that would be published in the German magazine Jasmin. It might seem an odd choice for Louis’s first big interview as Jasmin appears (correct me if I’m wrong) to have been aimed at men with its string of cover photos of different starlets and models, yet its tagline translates to a more couples-centric “The Magazine for the Life for Two.”
Regardless of how it came to pass, Lucille entered the interview in her daily planner for 3 p.m. on May 25:
As will be seen shortly, the entire interview is about Louis fighting to live and chronicles how well he was feeling and what his plans were for him and Lucille–all of which only added to the sadness when Jasmin hit newsstands on July 16, 1971…nine days after Armstrong passed away. The magazine was obviously already being printed up so there was no opportunity to even mention Armstrong’s death, which adds an extra layer of pathos to the article, which really does capture the optimistic state of Armstrong’s mind in his final weeks. Here is the cover of the issue with that July 16 date:
The Jasmin piece is highlighted by stunning photographs of the Armstrongs in their Corona, Queens home taken by Michael Ginsburg. The opening close-up photograph is simply beautiful:
If that photo seems familiar, it’s because photographer Ginsburg took another photo of Louis and Lucille kissing either a minute before or after the above shot and though it wasn’t in the final issue, he made sure to send a copy to Lucille. She had multiple prints made up in black-and-white and color and used them frequently in her widowhood, in presentations and for autographs. We have also used it right here on the “That’s My Home” site in the past; here it is again, taken May 25, 1971:
A full translation of the article will appear below but does not include a translation of the opening page, which reads (and to any of our many German friends, please offer a more accurate translation!), “‘I’M ALIVE! The only thing is, I am not allowed to play the trumpet yet.’ After his discharge from the hospital, Louis gave the first detailed interview with his wife Lucille.”
On the next page, there’s a small photo of Louis smiling in his den and a larger portrait of Lucille demonstrating the electric stair chair she had installed while Louis was in the hospital, something that comes up in the interview (again, see our earlier post on Louis’s final tapes or a photo of Louis in the chair):
These photos are all gems, especially for us at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. For those who have visited our Museum in the past (and breaking news, we hope to reopen in July!), these rooms should look very familiar. We still have the blue bathrobe Armstrong is wearing in the bathroom photo on display in our exhibit area. Also, upon discovery of the middle photo of Louis in his den, our late Curator David Reese made the decision in 2014 to return the portable reel-to-reel tape player to the corner of Armstrong’s desk in our Museum. Finally, for the full backstory of the Jerusalem Bible pictured below and Yakov Uriel, the trumpeter from Israel who gifted it to Louis, see this post about one of Louis’s scrapbooks.
After that flurry of photos, the rest of the article is heavy on German text, save for two small images: one of the Armstrong’s house being bricked up (it still wasn’t complete when Louis passed away) and a photo of Louis and Lucille on their wedding day that must have been supplied by the happy couple:
Now, if you can read German, we hope you enjoyed the above article in its original format! But for our English-speaking readers, we have a treat: Miriam Sandford translated her article and sent the translation to Lucille. Found in a brown envelope in her copy of Jasmin, Lucille scrawled on the outside of the envelope, “Louis’ Sick Days.”
Here now is the full translation of this incredible, late portrait of Louis Armstrong, fully admitting, “Everybody wants to know how I am going to die” just six weeks before his death:
That concludes this look at Louis’s Jasmin interview from May 25, 1971, but we have several more posts lined up over the next weeks about Armstrong’s final month, continuing with the second part of our look at his final reel-to-reel tapes on Monday.