It took years to iron out the legal rights to the recording, which is being released by the Smithsonian Institution’s Folkways recording label.
“There was a realization that we had a little jewel of his life’s work,” says D.A. Sonneborn, associate director of Smithsonian Folkways.
During a 20-minute performance at the Press Club, Armstrong and his band performed five numbers, and he played trumpet only on the first two, “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” and “Hello, Dolly!”
“It’s such an entertaining performance,” says Riccardi, one of the country’s leading Armstrong historians. “I love that ‘Hello Dolly’ solo. On this recording, it’s a completely new improvised solo.”
Armstrong told an off-color joke at one point and sang three other tunes, “Rockin’ Chair,” “Boy From New Orleans” and an abbreviated version of “Mack the Knife.” He recorded the autobiographical “Boy From New Orleans” — which he performed only in the final year of his life — just one other time.
“To have him looking back, well aware that there weren’t going to be too many performances after this one, it seems to me he reaches out to you and looks back on his life,” says McCarren, the Press Club’s executive director. “That’s an enormously powerful moment.”
On July 6, 1971, a little more than five months after his Press Club appearance, Armstrong died at age 69.
For the family of Vernon Louviere, the 1971 Press Club president, the long-ago evening still evokes warm memories of Louisiana food and the eternally youthful spirit of Armstrong.
“About the only time I saw my dad cry was when he died,” Amy Louviere recalls. “That evening meant a lot to him. I know that he always thought of Satchmo with great affection.”