Louis Armstrong was in Washington on January 29, 1971 to perform at the Inauguration against the advice of his doctors of then incoming National Press Club President Vernon Louviere, a fellow native of New Orleans.
Armstrong had been too ill to play trumpet for much of 1970 and the infrequent recordings of him from this period consist only of vocal performances.
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But on this evening the What A Wonderful World singer, singer had been in ill health because of heart and kidney trouble, backed by a group that included trombonist Tyree Glenn and Tommy Gwaltney on clarinet, performed for nearly 30 minutes, playing trumpet in addition to singing. The five songs performed were: When It’s Sleepy Time Down South; Hello, Dolly; Rockin’ Chair; Boy from New Orleans and Mack the Knife.
His performance has been released as a digital download and on CD.
NPC member Kim Gregory of CBS News, knowing that Armstrong would be performing, brought some state-of-the-art field audio recording equipment that evening to capture the event. About 300 copies of the recording (along with six additional tracks from a 1972 Armstrong tribute concert featuring Glenn and Gwaltney) were pressed to vinyl a year later for distribution to those who had attended Louviere’s inaugural ball as Satchmo at The National Press Club: Red Beans & Rice-ly Yours. It would be the last issued recording of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet.
Mr. Armstrong died in his sleep of a heart attack on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday. His honorary pallbearers included (among many other luminaries) David Frost, who had acted as emcee at Louviere’s Inauguration and can be heard on the recording.
This rare recording will be available widely for the first time via Smithsonian Folkways Recordings on April 24th as part of the Smithsonian’s celebration of the 11th annual Jazz Appreciation Month. Armstrong often signed letters “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours,” which makes for an apt title for the recording especially since his favorite recipes — everything from Louisiana Caviar to the Sazerac — are included in the liner notes, as they were in the original pressing.
Download liner notes here.
Get your copy of Satchmo at the National Press Club here.