“His Wreath Will Never Wither and His Star Will Always Shine”: Lucille Armstrong’s Condolence Letters Part 4

To get a warning out of the way immediately, this will be an extra long post. Initially, we thought this would be the final post in our series sharing many of the condolence letters Lucille arrived after Louis passed away. In compiling this series, we mainly stuck to the scrapbooks Phoebe Jacobs helped assemble for Lucille, as well as a dozen or so folders of loose letters and cards found in Lucille’s collection in our Archives. But Phoebe Jacobs herself also made substantial donations to our Archives before her passing in 2012 and a quick, eleventh-hour search there found several important letters and telegrams that we’re glad we found. Up to this point, we’ve tried organizing each post by theme but today’s will have a little bit of everything: fans, friends, athletes, politicians, public figures, musicians and even a film.

We’ll open with family, a card from Louis’s adopted son, Clarence Hatfield Armstrong, and Clarence’s wife Evelyn:

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The man Louis and Lucille felt like was their son, Jack Bradley:

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Bradley sent a flower arrangement to the viewing in the shape of a trumpet, along with this card:


Jack’s longtime girlfriend Jeann “Roni” Failows, who was responsible for introducing Bradley to Louis and who knew the Armstrongs for over 20 years, sent a card with a personal note:


The Armstrong’s longtime neighbors, the Heraldo family, who hosted Lil Hardin Armstrong before the funeral, also sent a card (read more about Selma Heraldo here):


Staying in Corona for the moment, a card from the police officers of the 110th Precinct, who protected Corona and Elmhurst, Queens:


Lucille also received the following telegram from “the black members of the New York City Housing police department”:


We covered broadcaster Fred Robbins’s eulogy at Louis’s funeral here. After it was over, Robbins’s wife, Ingrid, personally wrote Lucille with an interesting added detail: she and Fred had spent July 4, 1971 celebrating Louis’s birthday with him at home. We discussed some of the various theories that surround that day in an earlier post as reports varied from Louis didn’t receive visitors to he was playing trumpet for friends in his new backyard garden. The full truth might never be known but now we know the Robbins’s visited that day, thanks to this note from Ingrid Robbins:


Armstrong frequented many medical professionals over the years and though we’ve already focused on Dr. Gary Zucker and Dr. Alexander Schiff in previous posts, he also frequently took the time to thank “Dr. Kronenberg and Dr. Gottlieb” in multiple interviews. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that both men sent Lucille personal condolence letters. First, Dr. Bernard Kronenberg, Louis’s eye doctor:


And Dr. Manuel Gottlieb, Louis’s longtime dentist of 27 years:


Condolences from a few more musicians we haven’t heard from yet, opening with a touching tribute from Herb Alpert, whom the Louis Armstrong House Museum honored at our 2018 Gala:

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A telegram from Hazel Scott, with a cherished memory of Lucille getting ready for a date with Louis when she was still a Cotton Club dancer:

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Blue Note Records co-founder Alfred Lion wrote to Lucille to tell her that her husband was the influence for his and Francis Wolff’s forming of the label:

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New Orleans songwriter Charles Levy, better known as “Creole Charlie,” had been sending Louis newspaper clippings right up to late June 1971, most likely the same ones used on Louis’s final collages. He also sent Louis many of his compositions, which Louis promised to record, but he died before getting the opportunity to do so:

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While in New Orleans, here’s a note from Louisiana Governor John J. McKeithen:

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Lucille also heard from Helen Arlt, then president of the New Orleans Jazz Club, who was instrumental in getting Louis to return home for the first time in a decade in 1965:

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When Louis returned to New Orleans in 1965, the then-President of the New Orleans Jazz Club was Durel Black. Black wrote in 1971 from his position on the Jazz Committee on the New Orleans Chamber of Commerce, forwarded a resolution adopted by the Council Members on the passing of Louis:


Here is the council’s letter, referenced by Black above:


A resolution was also sent to Lucille from California State Senator George N. Zenovich:


And here are the relevant pages of the California resolution:

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In New York, Congressman Charles Rangel wrote to Lucille to let her know that he was nominating Louis for a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Alas, Louis did not receive one, in his lifetime or posthumously, but it’s still worth noting Rangel’s efforts, expressed below:


Massachusetts Congressman James Burke also wrote in with a copy of the Congressional Record and a note that “Boston always had a warm place in its heart for your husband”:

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Lucille also heard from royalty in the form of longtime friend The Honourable Gerald Lascelles, first cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, and a noted jazz authority from England:

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From politicians and royalty back to show business with a note from “Jonsey,” who used to be a “runner” for the chorus girls at the Apollo Theater:

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Mickey Kapp was the man who produced “Hello, Dolly!” and gave Louis the biggest hit of his lifetime (it was also his idea to change the lyrics to “It’s Louie, Dolly,” which Armstrong turned in to “This is Louisssss, Dolly”):

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Lei Becker was a Hawaiian-based vocalist that Louis befriended in the early 1950s, tape recording her singing and insisting he could make her a star. She was still in Hawaii in 1971 and still full of fond memories of her friendship with Louis:


Armstrong began playing Selmer trumpets in England in 1932 and though he occasionally tried other horns for short periods of time, he remained associated with the brand until the end of his life. Here’s a letter from Jack Feddersen, Chairman of Selmer’s sales division:


The world still remembers Sugar Ray Robinson as arguably the greatest boxer of all-time, but many might not remember that for a period in the early 1950s, Robinson hung up his boxing gloves and tried to make it as a song-and-dance man (booked by Joe Glaser). One of Robinson’s big tours in 1953 was headlined by Armstrong, allowing the two giants to become quite close. Robinson was at the International Hotel in Las Vegas and wrote the following to Lucille; because it might be difficult to read, here’s a transcription:
“July 8, 1971
Dear Lucille,
Since Western Union is still on strike, we hope this letter reaches you, as I looked for cards in the card shop and I just wasn’t satisfied. There was no card that really had the right message for “Pops.” So we decided to write instead. “You “Two” Were Champions All Over the World” May God continue to bless you and give you the strength that you need. With all of Our Love
Sugar Ray + Millie Robinson
P.S. “Pops” was the Greatest”


Speaking of Vegas, Maynard Sloate, the Director of Entertainment for the Tropicana, wrote to share that on July 9, the day of Louis’s funeral, all of the hotels in Las Vegas had a minute of silence for Louis while a lone spotlight shone onstage, before playing a chorus of “Hello, Dolly”–a beautiful tribute!


Lucille might have heard from big names like Herb Alpert and learned about major tributes in places like South Africa and Las Vegas, but she also saved cards such as this one, from Local #456 of the American Federation of Musicians in Shomokin, Pennsylvania:


Lawrence Berk, the president of Berklee College of Music wrote in to convey the sympathy of all those at that prestigious music institution:


Lucille also received this touching statement from Stanley Adams, the President of ASCAP:


Lucille also received a telegram from the American Guild of Variety Artists, signed by some heavy-hitters in the entertainment industry:

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Here’s a telegram from African American stand-up comedian and actor Godfrey Cambridge:

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A somewhat flippant telegram from actor Gary Merrill (I don’t think Louis had any relationship whatsoever with Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper or Tyrone Power, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts):

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A poem from actor Victor Buono, sent from Shirley Wood along with condolences from everyone at The Tonight Show:


A heartfelt, personal letter from longtime 20th Century Fox President Spyros Skouras, who sadly died on August 16, 1971 (Lucille would respond with a condolence letter of her own to his family):


Turning to the world of journalism, a short handwritten note from columnist Bert Bacharach, father of legendary composer Burt Bacharach (who sent his sympathy, too):


In 1949, Louis Armstrong became the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time. Inside the issue was a long profile of the trumpeter without a byline. The uncredited authors turned out to be Time‘s book’s editor Max Gissin and music researcher, Dorothea Bourne, the latter contributing the following letter with memories of that 1949 article:


Louis first met Edgar A. Wiggins when the latter was a European correspondent for many of the black newspapers in the early 1930s. When Armstrong ran into trouble with French manager N. J. Canetti and Canetti took to the pages of Melody Maker to blast his client publicly, it was Wiggins who interviewed Armstrong and managed to get his side of the story out to the black press back home. By 1971, Wiggins President and Founder of the Americain Descendants D’Africa Foundation, an organization based in France, but Wiggins seems to have been living in Philadelphia and working for another African American newspaper, the Philadelphia Tribune:


Advice columnist Ann Landers wrote (c/o Joe Glaser, who died two years earlier) to relate how she heard the news about Louis while she was in Yugoslavia. She also refers to a television program we have not been able to date (Louis didn’t live to celebrate his 30th anniversary with Lucille), but they were friends as our Archives has three books by Landers, one inscribed “To Satchmo–An Old Love.”


In January 1971, Louis made one of his final public performances at the National Press Club in Washington D. C., leaving an impression on the organization’s president, Vernon Louviere:

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Louviere was one of dozens (if not more) of folks who also made donations to the National Kidney Foundation, as directed by Lucille. Eventually, the President of the organization, E. Lovell Becker, wrote to express his gratitude:


We’ve shared a lot of emotionally charged letters from a lot of household names but we’re going to close with offerings from three friends of Louis that might only be known to members of their own families. First, one from Amy and Stephen Dubansky, reflecting on the beautiful wedding they had “because of Louis”:

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Our final offerings come from the Myers brothers of Chicago, Dwight–known to Louis as “Dite”–and Hiram–known to Louis as “Hi.” They met Louis in Chicago in the 1920s and remained friends until the end, always spending time with him when Armstrong performed in the Windy City. Dite even appears on some of his tapes in the 1950s, always ready to swap dirty jokes. According to a 1979 letter to Lucille, Dite Myers had saved over 100 letters to Louis. He sent Xerox’s of two at that time, while relative William Peverill donated photocopies of two more to our Archives in 2000, along with more details on the background of the Myers brothers; we hope their original letters are safe out there. (Any Myers-Peverill relatives out there, please get in touch with us!)

After Louis died, Dite Myers came to New York for the funeral and served as a pallbearer. Here is a handwritten card from Dite and his wife Marge after returning home from the funeral:


Dite Myers also sent this typed remembrance, which is quite beautiful:

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Dite’s brother Hiram sent along this heartfelt two-page letter:

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As mentioned at the end, he sent along a poem that was published in Nick Kenny’s syndicated column; here it is, in one of Lucille scrapbooks:


The letters from the Myers brothers and the Dubanskys are very personal and emotional but when close this post with them after including so many heavyweights elsewhere in this post?

In 2020, the Louis Armstrong House Museum launched Armstrong Now!, a series of short films featuring contemporary black artists creating new works inspired by the Armstrong House and Archives. You can watch all four Armstrong Now! films here. The first three offerings all take place at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, but the final installment was shot at our Archives on the campus of Queens College. Titled “Letters,” it features three tremendous vocalists, Alita Moses, Michael Mayo, and Vuyo Sotashe, and percussionist Negah Santos. The artists were inspired by the many letters in our Archives and eventually gravitated towards the condolences letters sent to Lucille. Beginning with Moses’s spine-tingling performance in our stacks at 9:26, you’ll hear multiple condolence letters read in the final 10 minutes of the film–including those sent by the Dubanskys and Myers’s above. It’s a beautiful way to bring their words to life and the perfect way to close this post (one of Dite Myers’s lines is heard multiple times in the film and is the title of this post). Thanks for reading and for watching.

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

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