As long as he walked the planet Earth, Louis Armstrong believed he was born on July 4, 1900. Thus, every time America celebrated the birth of its independence, the music and entertainment world would celebrate Armstrong's birth. It wasn't until years after Armstrong's death in 1971 that researcher Tad Jones discovered that Armstrong's actual birthday was August 4, 1901. For historical purposes, Jones's discovery was a major one. We finally knew when Armstrong was actually born and we had a whole new day to celebrate Armstrong's entrance into the world.
And yet....and yet....
Because July 4 had become so synonymous with Pops's birthday, it has become quite difficult to associate Armstrong's birthday with any other day. Thus, Armstrong usually gets two birthday celebrations, one on the actual date and one on the Fourth of July. Hey, I'm not complaining...I celebrate Pops with the same fervor 365 days a year! But if you really want to pay tribute, spin some of your favorite Pops records today. Or better yet, if you want someone else to do the labor, go to http://www.columbia.edu/cu/wkcr/ the home of Columbia University's WKCR radio station. They're in the middle of their annual Armstrong marathon broadcast (the Town Hall concert is playing as I write this) and they usually do a fantastic job playing and talking about Pops for the entire day. Anyone in the world can listen along online through the marvelous invention of streaming audio. Dig it.
And the great trumpeter Al Basile wrote in to tell me that each year, he plays nothing but Pops for three straight days, as Armstrong thought he was born on July 4 and died on July 6, 1971. I think that's a helluva good idea, too, so if you really want to have the best weekend of your life, start with Pops this morning, continue into tomorrow and don't stop until 11:59 p.m. on Sunday night...or just don't stop at all!
Any way you slice it, just make sure to include some Pops in your Fourth of July weekend plans. And if you need a suggestion for something festive, you can't go wrong with Armstrong and Fatha Hines's record of "Fireworks" from 1928! Guaranteed to be more breathtaking than any actual fireworks you'll see this weekend...
Also, an added note: George Avakian, still going strong at age 89, was the subject of a story by Andrew Wolf in yesterday's New York Sun. It's a great portrait of George's relationship with Pops and it emphasizes Avakian's role in reissuing the Hot Fives and Sevens. Check it out by clicking here.
That's all for now. Have a safe and happy Fourth and don't forget about dear Louis. Happy birthday, Pops!