News / Arts & Entertainment

Louis Armstrong Knocks Out The Beatles

Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong shown in the upstairs den of his Corona, New York home, June 23, 1971.
Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong shown in the upstairs den of his Corona, New York home, June 23, 1971.
Richard Paul
This week marks an unusual 50th anniversary: the last hurrah for one of the legends of American jazz and for a type of American music that, after this time, would never again be as popular.  

In the spring of 1964, the United States was going through a revolution.

Three months earlier, the British rock band The Beatles appeared on United States television, giving the country’s younger generation something they been looking for - a way to differentiate themselves from their parents.

“The youth of America is doing everything they can to be different than that generation that has come before,” said Dr. Tracey Chessum, a professor of Theater History at Point Park University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

This music, she says, gave them one of their first opportunities to turn away from the lifestyle their parents had lived. “That generation, they looked at it and they said, ‘Well why should we preserve this lifestyle?’”

When the Beatles ascended to the top of the music charts in February, 1964, they stayed there with a succession of records for the next three-and-a-half months - a
The Beatles are seen performing, date unknown. From left to right: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon.The Beatles are seen performing, date unknown. From left to right: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon.
x
The Beatles are seen performing, date unknown. From left to right: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon.
The Beatles are seen performing, date unknown. From left to right: Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon.
string of hits longer than any artist before them.

A common question was when their streak of number-one hits would finally be broken.  So was the question of who the artist to break their streak would be.

“Would it be another hot-shot rock group?  No!  It’s Louis Armstrong.  Here he is - he’s an old man.  He’s 63 years old,” said Ricky Riccardi, the archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York.  And not only was it a shock that the Beatles were unseated by a 63-year-old, the song he did it with was about as different as you could get from the Beatles’ rock-and-roll.

Armstrong had recorded this song a few months earlier, and Riccardi says, he almost didn’t record it at all.  For one, at the time, “he’s not making many records,” he said.
 
Louis Armstrong Knocks Out The Beatles
Louis Armstrong Knocks Out The Beatlesi
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Armstrong was making money performing concerts.  As a result, Riccardi says, “from September, 1961 through December, 1963, he never sees the inside of a recording studio.”

The Broadway musical “Hello Dolly” had not opened yet.  And Louis Armstrong wasn’t the popular act he had once been.  So when his manager approached several record companies about making this recording, they all told him “No.” 

When Armstrong finally did get into the recording studio, Riccardi says, he recorded not only “Hello Dolly,” but also a song from the Broadway musical “Bye Bye Birdie.” It was that song -- “A Lot of Living To Do” - that was expected to sell a few records.

According to Riccardi one writer at the time said, “with a proper amount of promotion, ‘A Lot of Living to Do’ could become a hit.”

Instead, things went in another direction.  Armstrong’s “Hello Dolly” hit the market in January, right after the Broadway play opened, and in the midst of Beatlemania, didn’t stop climbing the charts until it finally knocked the Beatles from the number-one spot on May 9, 1964.

But anyone who saw this as a trend would have been wrong.  This would be Armstrong’s last trip to the top of the music charts, and as Tracey Chessum says, songs from Broadway musicals wouldn’t see many appearances on the pop charts either.

“The musicals of the 1940s and 50s are in the Top-10 all the time, and then - as we hit that generational shift, we go completely in the opposite direction," she said. "And that’s when the shift away from musical theater as the music of America really starts to happen.”  

Despite the long-term trends, for one last time Satchmo, as he was called, won the day.  Armstrong showed with this record that there was magic left in his horn and his voice - that he could still create a hit.

“At an age when most of his contemporaries were either dead, retired or unknown anymore,” Riccardi said.

You May Like

Could Nemtsov Threaten Putin in Death as in Life?

Dynamic and debonair opposition leader had supported liberal economic reforms, criticized Russian president's aggression in Ukraine More

Oil Smuggling Highlights Challenges in Shutting Down IS Finances

Pentagon spokesman says Islamic State 'certainly continues to get revenue from the oil industry black market' but that airstrikes have made a dent More

India Focuses on Infrastructure, Investment to Propel Economy

Government expects economy to grow at 8 to 8.5 percent in next fiscal year More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

Country-pop singer, Lizzie Sider sits down with "Border Crossings" host Larry London to perform songs from her new album, “Butterfly,” and to talk about her anti-bullying tour.

Blogs