On Friday, at a news conference at the site of Armstrong’s original recording at the National Press Club, the music he made more than 40 years ago will finally be made available to the general public. The original album, “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours: Satchmo at the National Press Club,” had a limited pressing of 300 vinyl LPs. The new release, from the Smithsonian Institution’s Folkways recording label, will be available as a compact disc, on iTunes and from other digital sources. It marks one of Armstrong’s final performances on trumpet.
“I’ve always lamented that it was never commercially available,” says Ricky Riccardi, an 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.” “He changed music with his voice and his horn and pretty much created the vocabulary of American music. Knowing that he was giving it his all onstage for one of the last times in his career is a testament to this great genius of American music.”
The title of the album — “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours” — derives from how Armstrong often signed letters and autographs. (At one point in his performance, he refers to the “good Creole food” at the Press Club dinner; recipes for more than 30 dishes are included with the disc.)
Before his memorable appearance at the Press Club, Armstrong had been in poor health for more than two years. Doctors had told him to stop playing the trumpet, but against their advice he kept practicing at his home in Queens. By the late summer of 1970, Armstrong had regained enough strength to blow his horn in public again.
He appeared in Las Vegas, on a few television shows and in a British documentary before coming to Washington on Jan. 29, 1971. He was the featured performer at a celebratory dinner honoring a fellow Louisianan, Vernon Louviere, who was being inaugurated as president of the Press Club.
Louviere, a onetime newspaper reporter who later worked for Nation’s Business magazine, “loved all things related to New Orleans,” his daughter, Amy Louviere, says. He took his oath of office as Press Club president by placing his hand on a bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Louviere’s four children attended the black-tie gala with their parents and got to meet Armstrong.
“I remember he was very full of life,” recalls Amy Louviere, who was 11 at the time and is now a public affairs specialist at the Department of Labor’s Mine Safety and Health Administration. “He was trying to get me to smile for a picture and was joking around. The whole evening seemed overwhelming. I heard years later that people called that the best inaugural ball they ever had.”