“WPA Rhythm Band” – art by Elizabeth Olds (via NYPL)

“WPA Rhythm Band” – art by Elizabeth Olds (via NYPL)

Elizabeth Olds, artist and lithographer.

Elizabeth Olds

“WPA Rhythm Band” by Elizabeth Olds

Elizabeth Olds flourished during the Great Depression

This is a wonderful lithograph by Elizabeth Olds, done as part of a WPA-funded project in New York. From Olds’ bio on Wikipedia:

From 1935 until the early 1940s, Olds was a nonrelief employee for the Works Progress Administration-Federal Art Project (WPA-FAP) in the Graphic Arts Division in New York,[8] where she helped younger artists in the silkscreen unit.[9] She also joined the American Artists’ Congress, Artists Union, and other groups with similar interests.[6] Olds became friends with Harry Gottlieb, another nonrelief artist who also focused on industrialism.[6] Together, they observed the mining and steel industries of New York, and their research lead to Olds’s creation of her award-winning print, “Miner Joe.”[10] Olds used both silkscreen and lithography for the prints for ‘‘Miner Joe,’’ but it was her lithograph that won first place for the Philadelphia Print Club competition in 1938.[10]

Jazz speaks to us in many ways. Olds, working with younger artists in New York, She’s teaching them how to do silkscreen and lithos, is inspired by a jazz band. The traditional brass band is an archetype; this scene could be from NYC, Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, or here in New Orleans.

Jazz isn’t New Orleans-centric

I hesitate to say “especially New Orleans,” because sometimes we forget just how far jazz spread after Bolden. The musicians who left during the Great Migration went far and wide. We hear about King Oliver, Dutt, Pops, and the other icons of jazz, but there were journeyman musicians and others who left, bringing their horns to factories and other jobs in the north. They played casually, maybe on a stoop, passing the music on to others in their new neighborhoods.

I like to think this is what Elizabeth Olds captured, as she did her own part in passing on skills that encourage art and creativity.

The WPA kept a lot of folks going in dark times. It wasn’t about just roads and bridges, and our culture is much the better for that.

What date is Louis Armstrong’s Birthday?

What date is Louis Armstrong’s Birthday?

louis armstrong

Pops in 1919

Louis Armstrong’s Birthday, he claimed, was the Fourth of July, but many records say otherwise. James Karst of Da Paper shared an interesting article from last year on the blog, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. The blogger is Ricky Riccardi, who is Archivist for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens.

The article explores the research done by various folks on Pops’ birthday. Was he born in 1900 or 1901? Was the date really 4-July, or was it 4-August? Riccardi explores the issue, looking into research done by Tad Jones, along with John McCusker’s comments/defense of Jones’ work. He also cites a 2014 article by Karst, documenting Pops’ first trip to the Colored Waifs’ Home, at age 9.

The conclusion? Jones’ research into Armstrong’s baptismal records appears at face value to document the 4-August-1901 date. Karst’s find of the arrest record when Pops was nine tends to confirm 1901 as the year.

Here’s my only quibble with the baptismal record; while the date of the administration of the sacrament is not in doubt, the recording of the date of birth could be. Here’s Riccardi’s remarks on this:

Okay, it starts with baptism number 69, done on August 25 of a child born on August 15, ten days after. Next, number 70 is Louis Armstrong, baptized on August 25 and given the birthday of August 4. Now we’re 21 days away. Next, baptism number 71, done on August 25 is for a child born on JUNE 30! Nearly two months before. McCusker says August 4 has to be true because “those notations in the register happen in real time.” They were indeed happening in real time on August 25 but the birthdays of the kids being conceived varied from 10 days before until almost two months earlier. When I mistakenly wrote on Facebook that a “clerk” wrote the above, McCusker corrected me and said it was the priest and insinuated the priest is the most reliable source. But that priest wasn’t there when Mayann delivered Louis and if she remembered it being July 4, I don’t know why she gets discounted entirely.

The baptismal register at Sacred Heart Church on Canal Street would indeed be in “real time” – for baptisms. When a family brings the baby to the church for that baptism, however can vary. It’s not surprising to see babies ranging from two weeks to three months in age receiving the sacrament. So, to have one kid born on 15-August and another born on 30-June being baptized on the same day would be business as usual. The priest administers the sacrament, and records that act in the register. Louis Armstrong’s birthday would be secondary to his baptismal date in those records.

Is the priest a reliable source? Certainly for the date of baptism, but for the date of birth? What makes the priest’s recording of 4-August for DOB authoritative? Consider that this is 1901. The priest would be white, and Pops was listed in the register as “niger, illegitimus”. In other words, just how seriously did the priest take this record? Certainly he took the sacrament seriously. He brought a soul into the Church. But exactly when that soul’s mother gave birth would not be as important to him., given that he was African-American and illegitimate. All this research is done now because of what baby Louis became; on 25-August-1901, he was just another black baby. Jim Crow was in full force by 1901, essentially making African-Americans second class citizens. Without more info on the priest, it’s hard to tell here.

Go read the article, see what you think Louis Armstrong’s birthday is!

Maroon Monday – SS President in 1933

Maroon Monday – SS President in 1933

Maroon Monday – SS President in 1933

loyola maroon ad 1933

Ad for the SS President steamboat in the Loyola Maroon, November 17, 1933

Kicking off a new feature here – “Maroon Monday” – featuring ads and other interesting items from The Maroon, the student newspaper at Loyola University New Orleans.

Our first Maroon feature is from 1933. It’s an ad for dance cruises on the riverboat SS President. Riverboat cruises go back to the 1910s and earlier. The steamboats did nightly dance cruises, and afternoon trips on weekends. The cost in 1933 was seventy-five cents; by the time I was in high school in the mid-70s, a Friday night cruise on the President cost five dollars.

The band on the President in the fall of 1933 was “Fate Marable and his famous Cotton Pickers”. Marable was a well-established band leader, one of the musicians filled the void left when Buddy Bolden stopped performing in the 1900s. Marable worked with riverboat owners, putting together bands of black jazz musicians. Joe “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong were just two of the musicians who played in Marable’s riverboat bands in the 1920s. Marable’s bands played on the SS Capitol and other riverboats of the time. Those wooden boats had a short lifespan, however. The Streckfus Company upgraded the President, rebuilding the superstructure in steel. The boat officially called St. Louis home, but it moved back and forth from St. Louis to New Orleans as Streckfus chose.

While the name “Cotton Pickers” for a “creole jazz” combo may be a bit cringe-worthy now, it was code for a “colored band” in Jim Crow Louisiana. There are a couple of photos of Marable’s bands in New Orleans Jazz.

 

Steamer SS President in 1970

Steamer SS President, New Orleans, 1970 (unknown photographer, State Library of Louisiana Collection)

Here is the SS President, thirty-seven years later, in 1970. We would go on the President to see “Colour”, a 70s Beatles Cover band, among other acts. The boat had not changed much from those “new” days, back in the 1930s.

 

The Day The Music Died

Screenshot from 2016-02-03 07:53:54

WTIX listener survey flyer, 1969 (Courtesy Las-Solanas.com)

“But February made me shiver,
With every paper I deliver.”

In his song, American Pie, Don McClean sings of “The Day The Music Died”, February 3, 1959. On that day, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”) were killed in a plane crash in Texas. Based on interviews he gave in later years, McClean was clearly quite moved by the loss of Buddy Holly, and he used the tune to get that out of his system.

I wasn’t even a year old on The Day The Music Died, but I grew up listening to the music of the men who died that day. In the 1960s, that meant listening to WTIX-AM, “The Mighty 69o”. McClean released “American Pie” in 1971, and it shot to the top of the pop charts in 1972. I was in eighth grade at Brother Martin High School in the 1971-72 school. When “American Pie” flooded the AM airwaves, I would listen to it over and over, trying to sort out the numerous references to pop culture and music in its lyrics. Fortunately, WTIX did New Orleans tweens/teens a favor by releasing an “annotated” version of the tune, where one of the DJs (Bob Walker?) cut in on the song quickly after each cultural/music reference. For example:

“I met a girl who sang the blues” – and the voice over cut in, saying “Janis Joplin”.

“And I asked her for some happy news.
But she just smiled, and turned away.”

–and the voice over cut in saying “her death”

It was a wonderful reference for a word nerd like me.

“American Pie” was very much a pivotal point for me. Moving from elementary school (St. Angela Merici in #themetrys) to high school exposed me to music the older boys listened to, which was album-oriented rock. I went from the pop focus of AM radio to the folk-rock of CSNY and Joni Mitchell, the spacey rock of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and the funk/R&B of War. I never gave up on The Beatles, The Who, Motown, etc, but 1972 was the summer where my interests expanded.

To Holly, Valens, and Richardson: Thank you, gentlemen. Your music was cut short, but you inspired oh so many.