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

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

Report from member of British think tank says Russian extradition requests keep targets from traveling More

US Lawmakers Weigh Turkish Anti-terror Moves

Turkey’s two-pronged campaign against Islamic State militants, Kurdish PKK forces provokes mixed reactions on Capitol Hill More

What Happens When Americans Eat What They Tweet

You are what you tweet, according to new maps that show a correlation between obesity and tweeting about high-fat foods More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Wayne Casey – “KC” of KC and the Sunshine Band – comes to VOA’s Studio 4 to talk with "Border Crossings" host Larry London and perform songs from his new album, “Feeling You! The 60s.”