The theme of this site, “That’s My Home,” usually leans heavily towards “home” referring to Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s beloved residence at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, where each spent their final decades. But when a member of the New Orleans Jazz Club expressed her desire for Louis to return “home” in 1965, Louis told everyone assembled, “She’s not speaking about the place where I promised to pay rent. She means where I was bred and born!” In other words, even after 22 years in Queens, “home” to Louis Armstrong still meant New Orleans.
And 100 years ago today, Louis left home to go to Chicago, join King Oliver, and eventually conquer the world.
Such an monumental date requires at least a short post to pay proper tribute but if you’ve read Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, you might be confused as in that 1954 book, Louis made it clear that he left for Chicago on August 8. Here is the page of “The Roaring Twenties,” a manuscript the Louis Armstrong House Museum recently acquired that Louis wrote while penning My Life in New Orleans. In it, he recalls his final days in New Orleans in great detail and even remembers his last gig, a funeral parade for the father of trombonist Eddie Vincent:
“That was the 8th, of August 1922,” Armstrong wrote in the last paragraph.
But it wasn’t.
Just a few years earlier, Armstrong contributed a piece titled “Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town” to Esquire’s 1947 Jazz Book. Here’s how it began:
“I arrived in Chicago, about eleven o’clock the night of July 8, 1922, I’ll never forget it, at the Illinois Central Station at Twelfth and Michigan Avenue.”
Apparently, somewhere between 1947 and 1954, Louis did indeed forget the date.
Enter James Philip Karst, who has made one astounding discovery after another in recent years about Louis’s years in New Orleans, as well as discoveries about Buddy Bolden and other early jazz greats. Karst dug in and found the death certificate for Eddie Vincent’s father, Henry Vincent, deceased July 3, 1922:
So there you have it. The funeral for Henry Vincent took place in early July as Louis initially remembered meaning, 100 years ago today, Armstrong arrived in Chicago to join King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. The rest is history.
Of course, we have to share something special from our Archive to celebrate this moment. In 1951, Louis was performing in San Francisco and was visited by New Orleans trumpeter Maurice Durand–who happened to be playing with Louis at Henry Vincent’s funeral in July 1922. Louis turned on his tape recorder and decided to reminisce about the last funeral, Black Benny and other incidents from Louis’s New Orleans days. Here’s the audio (watermarked to prevent commercial use without consent):
And here’s a photo of Louis and Maurice Durand probably taken at the time they made the above tape, saved and annotated in one of Louis’s scrapbooks:
Because Louis left home to join Joe “King” Oliver, the top of this post includes a photo of Louis with Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Here’s another famous photo of Louis and “Papa Joe” from this era, most likely taken when Oliver visited Armstrong in St. Louis while the latter was playing with Fate Marable in the early 20s (this has been speculated for years but I recently found a tape where Louis specifically recalls Oliver spending a vacation with him in St. Louis so I think that might make it official….but of course, if it was taken in Chicago, that wouldn’t surprise me either):
We’ll close with a shoutout to our friends at the Jazz Institute of Chicago, who are celebrating the 100th anniversary of Louis’s arrival in Chicago with some wonderful events all this year. (I’ll be at the Chicago Jazz Festival to talk about it all on September 1 and hope to see some friends from Louis’s other other longtime home!)
100 years. It wasn’t an easy decision for Armstrong to leave home but once he stepped foot in Chicago, it’s safe to say the world of music has never been the same.