This is the third part in a series of posts devoted to sharing selections of the tens of thousands of condolence letters Lucille Armstrong received after Louis passed away on July 6, 1971 (here are links to Part 1 and Part 2). We’ve shared letters from prominent politicians, entertainers and musicians already; today’s post will focus on international correspondence. Given the nature of Armstrong’s “Ambassador Satch” reputation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this entry is a massive one, but we feel it’s a very important part of the story.
In 2021, when a celebrity dies, most people will post a personal remembrance or share a piece of art on their social media page and move on. But 50 years ago, thousands of fans took the time to write a letter or send a telegram to the widow of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. Many of them never met Louis; some only shook his hand; others didn’t speak a word of English but they still felt it was important enough to put their feelings on paper and send them to Queens, NY.
It took a few years, but Lucille made sure that everyone who wrote got a response, a massive undertaking that could not have been finished without the help of Phoebe Jacobs. Jacobs also helped Lucille assemble several scrapbooks of condolence letters, which have been crucial in putting together this series.
The first half of today’s post comes from a scrapbook that was almost entirely made up of telegrams. As mentioned at the end of our last entry, there was a Western Union strike in the United States so almost all the telegrams that made their way to Lucille emanated from overseas. We’re going to share many, opening with Yacov Uriel, the Israeli trumpet player who played for Louis in 1970 and gifted him a Jerusalem Bible for his birthday, something that is still on display at the Louis Armstrong House Museum today (read more about Louis and Yacov here):
This next page includes telegrams from Hans Philippi and the Hot Club of Basel; vocalist and actress Adelaide Hall, who performed with Louis at the Sunset Cafe in 1927; British trumpeter Spike Mackintosh; Clare Gunderloch, who booked all of Armstrong’s tours of Germany; and Japanese trumpeter Fumio Nanri, the original “Satchmo of Japan.”
The following page contains telegrams from a musician’s and entertainer’s union, one from Honolulu disc jockey Bob Wilson; Therese Dadzie; Charles Deprez Lutry of Switzerland; and finally, Nick and Madeleine Aldrich.
Nick Aldrich was a pianist from Montreal who most famously appeared in the “tramp band” in the 1943 film, Stormy Weather. He became friends with Louis and hosted him anytime the trumpeter passed through Montreal, even appearing on many tapes. After sending the above telegram, Nick and Madeline sent a handwritten letter, reproduced below, apologizing for not being able to make the funeral:
10-year-old trumpeter Enrico Tomasso, whom Louis befriended in 1968, sent a telegram from his family in Leeds:
Ed Sullivan appears on the next page, along with a few mysteries: Michel Debry (written in French) and “Hilton and Webb.” But the bottom telegram is no mystery: it is from Stephen Maitland-Lewis. Maitland-Lewis began corresponding with Louis in 1956 and was invited by the trumpeter to come to his shows–and his hotel room–during a 1962 tour of England. The two remained in touch until the end of Louis’s life (for more on their relationship, please see this interview from 2018). Maitland-Lewis visited the Armstrong Archives for the first time in 2010 and was stunned to see that Louis and Lucille had saved many of his letters; he has been a member of our Board of Trustees ever since!
Here’s one of those letters, written by Stephen after sending the above telegram:
The next entry is in French but it comes from Jean-Claude Duvalier, then-President of Haiti:
Vocalist–and fellow Queens resident–James Rushing kicks off the next page, followed by Emi and Bill Hirsch (same Bill Hirsch who recorded Charlie Parker in the early 1950s?), Peter Bergin of Radio 2GB in Sydney, Australia, and Cora and Mitchi Dunn:
Bill Hirsch also took the time to write a two-page letter from Japan, reproduced here:
More jazz royalty kicks off the next page in the guise of trumpeter Clark Terry, followed by Scottish jazz singer Dinah Kaye, Premier of Nevis Anguilla (in the West Indies) Robert Llewellyn Bradshaw, and two of his longest, closest friends, Hugues Panassie and Madeleine Gautier of France:
The next page only features two telegrams, opening with one from a member of the Hot Club de Orange in France and another from Lorenzo Pack, the former boxer-turned -songwriter who contributed “This Black Cat Has 9 Lives” to the 1970 album, Louis Armstrong and His Friends.
An anonymous submission from Honolulu starts the next page, followed by “Dolly and Family,” and Italian singer Lara St. Paul and her husband Pier Quinto Cariaggi, two prominent figures in the scrapbooks Armstrong made in the last two years of his life.
One of Armstrong’s final collages was made up of a creation of Carlos Radzitzky of the Hot Club of Brussels, who sent a simple message to Lucille, “Louis Still With Us Forever.” The “Ernie” from London in the second telegram is most likely Louis’s longtime overseas publicist Ernie Anderson.
That concludes the main scrapbook of telegrams, but we haven’t even reached the halfway point as the rest of this post will be devoted to international letters. We’ll share correspondence from some prominent figures and politicians, but also a lot of regular fans, many of whom had unforgettable interactions with Louis. In this next letter, 16-year-old Marie Sullivan of Ireland writes about her living with her handicapped mother. She once wrote to Louis and he responded with a letter and a “gift of money”:
Sinclair Traill, founder of Jazz Journal and one of Louis’s closest friends in England, sent in this letter:
The next two figures couldn’t have known it at the time, but they would make great contributions to the Louis Armstrong Archives in the following century. Gösta Hägglöf of Sweden had already corresponded with Louis for several years, including trading letters in February 1971. After his passing in 2009, Hägglöf donated his entire Armstrong collection–arguably the largest in Europe–to the Armstrong Archives. Here’s his condolence letter:
Over in Berlin, Winfried Maier befriended Armstrong in 1959 and spent time with him every time Louis came over to Germany. In 2015, Maier turned 80 and donated his entire collection to the Armstrong Archives, including Lucille’s response to this letter; we’re happy to report that Winfried is still with us in 2021!
A letter from J. T. F. Iyalla, Ambassador of Nigeria, sending along a message from Nigerian Head of State, Major-General Yakubu Gowon:
A letter in Spanish from the President of Pedro Xavier Teixeira college in Brazil:
The Associated Press news about Louis’s passing was sent to Lucille from Art Lunt in Saigon, Vietnam, along with a note referencing “Mr. Glaser” always referring to Armstrong as “Louis”; did he know both men?
We’ve already shared a couple of condolences from the various Hot Clubs around the world; here’s one from the Hot Club of Antwerp and the Jazz Club 33 in Italy:
Here’s one from the Hot Club of Japan:
A very sweet letter from Kelly P. Michaels and Susan Kelly of Johannesburg addressed to “Aunt Lucille,” recounting their meeting with “Uncle Satch” in Southern Rhodesia:
Andre Vandenbroucke appears to be a French singer (Google says he was part of The Jokers in 1960), who wrote to Lucille in his native tongue:
Another letter in French, this one originating from Dakar from Assane Fall, Director of SAFCA, the Societe Africaine De Courtage D’assurance.
French was Louis Panassie’s first language, but the son of Hugues wrote to Lucille in English to send his condolences to thank her again for her hospitality when Louis and his wife Claudine visited Corona in 1969 (you can view the charming results of that visit here).
During his two tours of Australia in the 1960s, Louis made time to appear on the “My World” radio program on Radio 2GB in Sydney, hosted by Tom Jacobs and Dorothy Jenner, the latter better known “Andrea.” Here is her condolence letter:
R. O. Mensah of the Ghana High Commission:
Bob Cremer, secretary of the Roaring 20s Club of Breda in the Netherlands:
A two-page letter from the wife of the Ambassador to Yugoslavia, reminiscing about when Louis played Belgrade and they hosted him for a luncheon at their home:
Back to London for a few words Prudence Emery, publicist from the Savoy, who (Emery published her memoir Nanaimo Girl in 2020):
When Armstrong toured Africa in 1960-1961, his integrated band was not welcome in South Africa so he stayed away. That didn’t stop Consulate General in Durban, South Africa from reporting to the State Department about a two-and-a-half-hour tribute to Louis that took place on July 15:
The State Department also passed along this message from Othman Wok, the Minister for Social Affairs of Singapore:
Of course, the Armstrongs visited Egypt during that 1961 African tour, something that was recalled in the following card from Archie Davies’ family, who was stationed in Cairo and met Louis at that time:
From Italy, a personal note from Renato Pachetti, Executive Vice President of the RAI Italian radio and television network:
A short note signed by members of the Jazz Club Caravaggio, also in Italy:
From South America, a note from the president of the Club De Jazz De Santiago, Chile:
The Musicians Union of Argentina sent a note in Spanish, translated by the United States Embassy, also shown below:
While the war raged on in Vietnam, U. S. Navy Commander Dean Buck took time to send some obituaries from the Stars and Stripes newspaper “as some small indication of how important your husband was to all of us.”
One of the few places Louis didn’t visit was Poland–Lucille made up for that with her 1974 tour of East Europe–but he still had an impact, inspiring Kornel Nowak to write:
A personal letter from Paulina W. Ayesu of Ghana, a relative of musician “Little Joe” Ayesu, who moved to New York and was apparently helped out by Louis at some point. “Little Joe” attended the funeral (Jet referred to him as a Ghanaian student and musician who had to be shushed when he started playing kazoo) and he remained in touch with Lucille throughout her widowhood:
And finally, a good summary of the impact Louis had on his overseas audiences can be detected in this postcard from a fan in Prague who wrote to relate that he “never forgot my shakehand with Satchmo, February 13, 1965, in Prague Hotel International. Satchmo will always live in our human and musical memories!”
When you can still recall the date of a handshake with an artist and feel the need to tell his widow about it years later–that’s the impact of Ambassador Satch.