And a happy belated birthday to the late, great Louis Armstrong, who was born on August 4, 1901, coincidentally the same year my house in New Orleans was built on a small parcel of the grounds that made up the former Delachaise Plantation (yes, as in Rene!).
Although Louis Armstrong is best known as a trumpet and coronet player, here is the song that I most love by him:
Louis played an integral role in ROYAL STREET, came back for a cameo appearance in ELYSIAN FIELDS, when DJ summoned him to get some intel on the Axeman of New Orleans; later, Louis spotted the necromancer Jonas Adamson in Old Orleans and reported his whereabouts to the Elders.
As part of my research on Louis Armstrong, I read an autobiography he’d written in his later years so I was able to get some feel for his voice and way of speaking (I like that version of “Wonderful World” above because it has his voiceover introduction in what still sounds like a New Orleans accent.) His grandparents were slaves, and he grew up in a very poor family in Storyville, which in the early part of the century was NOLA’s legal prostitution district. He was shuffled between his mother, who was in the neighborhood “business,” and his grandmother (his father abandoned them when he was an infant), hustled on the streets, hung out in dance halls, and did odd jobs. He began to develop his musical skills when he was thirteen by playing with a band from a juvenile-detention facility where he had been sent several times after getting in trouble. When he was fourteen, he got his first dance hall job, hauling coal by day and playing music at night. There, from the city’s rich musical community, he learned from the greats, then learned to work with arrangements when he was hired to play on New Orleans riverboats. He had a rough life as a kid, but in his autobiography he tells the stories without a trace of self-pity. He seemed to genuinely be a positive, charismatic person. On the other hand, he has a reputation for embellishing his stories a bit, reminding me of another famous New Orleanian, namely Captain Jean Lafitte!
After Hurricane Katrina, one of Louis’s songs became a kind of rallying cry for those of us who had been displaced in the Great Diaspora–more than a million of us had been forced from our homes and didn’t know when or if we’d be able to return, and yet knowing we were better off than the 1,600 who died and the thousands who were trapped in the city (including a couple of my friends, who have harrowing stories).
Here’s a version from the film “New Orleans,” with Louis on trumpet and vocals by Billie Holiday:
So, I guess we need a question today to leave a comment to win a book: Do you have a favorite song about New Orleans? (If not, I might have to do a blog on NOLA songs one of these days!)