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Book Review: Ricky Riccardi’s What a Wonderful World

The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years

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I was born in 1955. Like most of my generation, I had little awareness of Louis Armstrong. Although alive and very aware of popular culture in Armstrong’s final years, I don’t recall his Sunday evening visits to Ed Sullivan, any of his television commercials, or his guest spots on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. My main point of interest with this musician had to do with a Beatles-related fact-how his “Hello Dolly” had knocked the Fabs out of the #1 spot on the Billboard pop chart early in 1964.

The first time I heard any true discussion of Louis Armstrong was when I was working backstage at a jazz concert in St. Paul in 1981. A few of the older musicians were relaxing between sets and at one point the conversation turned biblical. One horn player mentioned how much he was looking forward to someday hearing Gabriel play his trumpet. Another musician immediately countered, “Gabriel? You’ve already heard him. He’s been here! His name is Louie Armstrong!” And as if on cue, the men in the room all nodded their heads as one and mumbled in agreement that this pronouncement was accurate. I waited for the punch line, but nobody laughed. No one even smiled. These guys were serious-Armstrong was heaven-sent.

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