A new album release has music lovers commemorating the life of jazz legend, Louis Armstrong. The posthumous album features recordings of Armstrong’s last performance before he passed away in 1971. The tunes have not been heard for over 40 years, but after being released to the general public the album soared to one of the top five jazz albums on iTunes.
Fans of Armstrong have the nonprofit Smithsonian Folkway Recordings to thank for the release of the iconic jazz singer’s last performance. The newly released album, entitled “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours: Satchmo at the National Press Club,” features the live recordings from Satchmo’s performance at the National Press Club in Washington. The performance took place on January 29, 1971, and was a celebration of the inauguration of another Louisiana native, Vernon Louviere, as the National Press Club’s president. On Friday the recording was played for a select audience, which consisted of historians, musicians, and a few of those who attended Armstrong’s last performance back in 1971.
Among those present was Amy Louviere, who was only 11 at the time of the original performance. She happily reminisces about Armstrong’s performance at her father’s inauguration. One of her fondest memories of the jazz legend was when he would call out “spaghetti” instead of “cheese” in order to make her smile for a photo. As she remembered the performance she simply stated, “He just captured the audience. They were thrilled.”
Armstrong’s last few years truly displayed his love and passion for music. Ricci Riccardi, the archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York and author of “What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years” said, “He had such a love of performing.” Armstrong proved just how much he loved performing by continuing performances even as he battled serious health conditions such as heart attacks and kidney problems. The jazz singer reportedly told fellow musicians that the best way to die would be to die on stage. So he performed no matter what, even after writing a letter to his physician complaining about a shortness of breath.
The album truly captures the night of Armstrong’s last performance by including 30 recipes that were served at the press club during what would come to be known as his farewell performance. In addition to featuring his vocal performance, the album also includes Armstrong’s trumpet solos and stories that he told the crowd. William McCarren, the press club’s director and the man who found the old records still wrapped in plastic, said, “There was just something kind of wrong about the idea that 300 people heard this record and heard the concert and then nobody heard it for 40 years.”
The sweet sorrow behind Armstrong’s last performance was that this was truly his last goodbye to the world and his fans, and the audience could tell. There was one tune that Armstrong only performed during his later years, “Boy from New Orleans.” This song served as an autobiography for the jazz legend and convinced his audience that this was indeed his farewell as he sang, “and one final thank you to the fans who made him what he was.”