30 Books in 30 Days: Louis Armstrong Edition

louisAnd 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!)

26 thoughts on “30 Books in 30 Days: Louis Armstrong Edition

  1. Personally, I love Dolly Parton’s version of House of the Rising Sun. Traditionally, the song was sung by both men and women and there were separate versions. Dolly Parton is the only one I know that sings the woman’s version for it.

  2. Not a song but….In the fifties and sixties there was a dance hall in Muskoka called the The Key to Bala. Muskoka is cottage country in central Ontario. All the big bands played there and our parents went for dining and dancing. I’ll never forget the night my daddy came home, woke me up to tell me that Louis Armstrong played that night and after a set came and sat with him and his friends and chatted for awhile. My dad never forgot that magical evening.

  3. The Animal’s House of the Rising Sun. What can I say, I’m a child of the 60’s. I also love “When the Saints Go Marching In”, but not because of the football team (I’m-still- a Houston OIlers fan). I just love the idea of a jazz funeral, with everybody dancing out and celebrating a life well lived!

  4. I had the pleasure once of seeing Louis Armstrong in New York City, the early 60’s. He was playing at Birdland and the fleet was in New York. Great times those Navy days. I’m fond of Wonderful World but would like to hear more about New Orleans songs.

  5. I don’t have a favorite song about New Orleans, ( I secretly hope one day I might be able to visit), but I love Louis Armstrong music.

  6. The most amazing version of the House of the Rising Sun is by Josh White in 1947. Lyrics are from the feminine perspective.

  7. House of the Rising Sun by Animals , of course, but I love the City – so unique – fell in love with NOLA back in the 70’s when I was in the Air Force and we had 3-day weekends from Boloxi!

  8. Some great answers, guys, and thanks for those versions of “House of the Rising Sun”–I’d never heard them! Okay, the challenge has been issued. I’ll definitely plan a post about New Orleans songs. (I mean, c’mon–Lady Marmalade, anybody? LOL.)

  9. I would love to more about the music of NOLA because where I grew up, I listened to country. I have missed out on a lot. πŸ™‚

  10. I love House Of The Rising Sun. I can’t think of any others though. A future blog post would be fun and informative πŸ™‚

  11. House of the Rising Sun is the only one I can think of, and I’ve always liked it, so I guess it works for a favorite!

  12. Well, I don’t think I do… There’s one song by My Chemical Romance, Give ‘Em Hell Kid, that goes “Oh baby here comes the sound!
    I took a train outta New Orleans and they shot me full of ephedrine.
    This is how we like to do it in the murder scene.
    Can we settle up the score?”

    I don’t know if that counts though πŸ˜€

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