“He Made Me Happy–And God Knows That’s The Most Fantastic Thing!”: Lucille Armstrong’s Condolence Letters Part 5

We have reached the conclusion of our series on Lucille Armstrong’s condolence letters which means we have also reached the conclusion of our posts about the eventful year of 1971. I’ll admit off the bat that when the calendar turned to 2021, I knew there’d have to be posts on the 50th anniversary of Louis’s last engagement at the Waldorf, his passing and funeral, but I didn’t envision a 16-part series covering Louis’s final weeks and the aftermath of his passing in such detail. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading everything as much as I have enjoyed compiling it all. Remember, you can relive the entire 1971 series here.

We’ve pretty much emptied the trove of condolences from public figures, politicians, musicians, athletes, friends, etc., but the category of condolences that will make up this final post includes regular folks who were touched by Louis’s music and his spirit and felt the need to convey their feelings to Lucille. We’ll start off with a touching letter from Sandra Lee Fulmer, one of the “‘little’ people in Middle America” who related that she cried when Louis died because, though she never met him, he once personally responded to a get-well card she sent to him:

LAHM1987_08_70_008

Here’s a note from a “deaf, mute” couple who couldn’t hear Armstrong’s music, but still admired him tremendously:

1987_9_260-99~001

77-year-old Curtis Chavies was a waiter at the Hello, Dolly! movie premiere party in 1969 and wrote to Lucille about how he discussed a shared love of large handkerchiefs with Louis that evening. He also tells her that he was a waiter at the Sunset Cafe in Chicago in the 1920s and remembered seeing Louis with King Oliver at the Royal Gardens:

1987_9_253-56~001
1987_9_253-56~002

10-year-old fan Bruce Fielding of Vermont wrote Lucille a handwritten note inside of a sympathy card to tell her that he “liked Mr. Armstrong’s music very much”:

1987_9_259-03

This letter comes from a 14-year-old trumpet player (alas, it appears Lucille didn’t save the second page with their name), who was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but purchased the “Louis Armstrong Songbook” and enjoyed seeing Louis on “The Mike Douglas Show”:

LAHM1987_08_70_032

This card from Danny Kaliu (“Ethel Spitalny’s son”) includes a handwritten line, “I loved ‘Pops’ as if he were my own dad.”

LAHM1987_08_70_030

Here’s a beautiful letter from Christine Anderson–“one of ‘today’s kids’ who is happy to have known of Louis Armstrong”–who writes, “He made me happy–and God knows that’s the most fantastic thing!”

LAHM1987_08_74_006

A very sincere letter from young Veronica Jones (“known as Ronny”):

1987_9_259-08

In Baltimore, Maryland, teacher Edward Mierzwicki of the Harlem Park Junior High School had his students write condolence letters to Lucille after playing “Hello, Dolly!” for them. Here’s Mr. Mierzwicki’s letter of introduction:

LAHM1987_08_74_019

Mr. Mierzwicki must have sent up a template that many of the students followed without adding much else, but some of students injected their letters with sincerity, such as this one from Justin M. Sewell:

LAHM1987_08_74_020

This one from Barbara Frederick was read by Lucille at a press conference the following month (more on that later):

LAHM1987_08_74_021

And here’s a cute one from Cynthia Whitaker, who names “Hello, Dolly” as her favorite Louis song since she just heard it and concludes, “I have nothing else to say”:

LAHM1987_08_74_025

Turning away from children for a moment, here’s a note from the Union County Court House:

LAHM1987_08_74_013

The inmates of the Queens House of Detention in nearby Kew Gardens, NY, also signed a letter expressing their condolences to Lucille on Louis’s passing:

LAHM1987_08_74_030

The nurse at the Illinois State Reformatory for Women took time to write Lucille to let her know that anytime Louis was on television, “the inmates–and myself as well–enjoyed him immensely”:

1987_9_260-53~001

Rev. Dan McGrath wrote in to recall meeting Louis once and that “He was a GENTLE MAN.”

LAHM1987_08_71_028

Robert E. Rhodes, the Editor-in-Chief of The Home News in New Brunswick, NJ, wrote to Lucille to recount an interview he had with Louis in Columbus, Ohio in the 1950s and the impression it left on him:

LAHM1987_08_74_086

Rhodes also included a copy of his story, which we will reproduce here. It doesn’t have anything to do with condolences but has some of Louis’s great wisdom (along with Rhodes’s description of Louis’s tape recorder and tapes, treasured parts of our Archives to this day):

1987_7_22-48_001

With Lucille receiving so much mail, it’s no surprise that she heard from multiple folks in the postal industry. Here’s a sweet letter from the postmaster of Muncie, Indiana, letting Lucille know that their flags were at half-mast for Louis:

LAHM1987_08_70_012

And finally, a proud letter from the Flushing, NY District President and Reporter of the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees:

LAHM1987_08_70_036

That actually concludes our sharing of just some of the condolence letters Lucille received, but we should end this series by giving her the last word. In her collection, we found this heartfelt thank-you Lucille typed up for all the fans who wrote after Louis passed away:

1987_9_245a-27

Six weeks after Louis died, Lucille held a short press conference at the Rainbow Grill in New York City, where Phoebe Jacobs did P.R. Jacobs was crucial in helping Lucille organize and reply to everyone who wrote, even though it would take a couple of years to finish the task. Lucille talked about the outpouring of love she received from around the world and also talked about her plans for her home. She received two short Associated Press wire reports with her statements, which she added to her scrapbook:

LAHM1987_08_73_003

We realize that’s difficult to read so we’ll conclude this post–and this series–with a transcript of the above (also, the Long Island Press article at the top of this post features some additional statements from this same press conference):

API 42–
MRS. ARMSTONG (2)
AS A HUSBAND, SHE SAID, “HE WAS THE SAME– THE KIND,
GENTLE, LOVABLE, CONSIDERATE, OVERLY GENEROUS PERSON THAT THE PUBLIC SAW, OF COURSE, HE HAD OUR MOMENTS TOO. HE WAS STILL A HUMAN BEING. THAT’S MARRIAGE.”
MRS. ARMSTRONG SAYS SHE WILL CONTINUE TO LIVE IN THE HOUSE IN CORONA, QUEENS WHERE THE COUPLE LIVED FOR 28 YEARS. “IT HAS SO MANY BEAUTIFUL MEMORIES; 28 YEARS OF HAPPINESS. LOUIS LOVED IT. IT WAS THE ONLY HOME HE’D OWNED. HE USED TO SAY IT WAS THE HOME HE HAD DREAMED ABOUT IN THE WAIFS HOME IN NEW ORLEANS.
“ALL OF LOUIS’S THINGS ARE THERE. I’M GOING TO KEEP THEM THERE. EVENTUALLY I’LL PROBABLY GIVE IT TO THE CITY AS A MEMORIAL TO LOUIS. WE HAD PLANNED TO DO THAT. PEOPLE CAN START COMING IN TO SEE THE PLACE WHERE LOUIS LIVED.”
MRS. ARMSTRONG, WHO IS 57 AND LOOKS YOUNGER, SAYS, “I’M TAKING MY LIFE STEP BY STEP, DAY BY DAY.” ARMSTRONG’S INCOME WAS HANDLED BY A BUSINESS OFFICE, SO SHE IS FINANCIALLY PROVIDED FOR, BUT SHE WANTS TO KEEP BUSY AND PROBABLY WILL DO VOLUNTEER WORK CHILDREN. SHE HAS AGREED TO DO TWO TELETHONS FOR CHARITY, FOR SICKLE CELL ANEMIA AND MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY, BUT HAS NO WISH TO RETURN TO SHOW BUSINESS. SHE WAS A DANCER AT THE COTTON CLUB WHEN SHE AND ARMSTRONG MET IN 1938. (MORE)
API 43–MRS. ARMSTRONG (3)
THE TRUMPETER’S MUSIC WILL LAST, MRS. ARMSTRONG BELIEVES, BECAUSE JAZZ IS A GENUINE AMERICAN ART FORM. “FORTUNATELY LOUIS LIVED TO BING IT FROM THE BASEMENTS TO THE HIGH ECHELONS. THEY WON’T TAKE HIS NAME OUT OF THE ENCYCLOPEDIAS. AND THEY MAY ADD A FEW MORE TO IT THAT HE INSPIRED.” MRS. ARMSTRONG HAD SOME OF THE LETTERS THAT SHE RECEIVED WITH HER AT THE PRESS CONFERENCE IN THE RAINBOW GRILL, 30 ROCKEFELLER PLAZA. ONE SAID, “THE TIMES I SAW HIM SING AND PLAY HIS TRUMPET, IT WAS LIKE SEEING JOY AND FEELING LIFE. ONE OF TODAY’S KIDS, CHRISTIE ANDERSON.” ANOTHER SAID: “MR. LOUIS SATCHMO POPS ARMSTRONG, YOUR HUSBAND, WAS A GREAT MAN. HE SHOWED FEELING. I LOVED THE WAY HE PLAYED HIS TRUMPET. BARBARA FREDERICKS, HARLEM PARK JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL, BALTIMORE.” ARMSTRONG WOULD HAVE BEEN PLEASED WITH THE LETTERS, HIS WIDOW SAID. HE LIKED THE FACT THAT THE YOUNG AS WELL AS THE OLD WERE HIS FANS AND HE WOULD HAVE SAID, “THEY’RE STILL DIGGING OLE POPS.”

Published by Ricky Riccardi

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

One thought on ““He Made Me Happy–And God Knows That’s The Most Fantastic Thing!”: Lucille Armstrong’s Condolence Letters Part 5

Leave a Reply to Michael Shore Cancel reply

error: Content is protected
%d bloggers like this: