April 18, 1947: Armstrong and Holiday at Symphony Hall
Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, on tour, make a stop at Symphony Hall on April 18, 1947.
My first thought when I learned that Armstrong and Holiday were touring in 1947 with a concert package called “The Birth of the Blues” was that they were promoting their movie, New Orleans, released that year. (They both had roles in the film but they did not star in it; Billie was a singing maid and Louis a bandleader.) My first thought, however, was apparently incorrect.
What was actually happening was Armstrong was touring with his Famous Orchestra (Joe Garland, Big Chief Russell Moore, Arvell Shaw, and a whole lot of musicians I never heard of); that the film had been or was about to be shot; and that Joe Glaser, manager of both Armstrong and Holiday, saw a way to create some buzz for the film by adding Billie to the tour.
Although Armstrong and Holiday share equal billing on the program cover, Armstrong gets nine pages of program content and Holiday one. There is no mention of the movie whatsoever. And there’s no Billie music on the concert program. There are four songs that were used in the film but we associate them with Armstrong, including “West End Blues,” Basin Street Blues,” “Mahogany Stomp,” and “Dippermouth Blues.” And there are the Armstrong chestnuts: “You Rascal You,” “Struttin’,” and “Sleepy Time,” nineteen numbers in all. Number 11 is “Billie Holiday.” No idea what she sang, or if she and Louis sang together.
What’s missing from the list are the three gems written for the movie by Louis Alter (Haverhill, MA’s man on Tin Pan Alley) and lyricist Eddie DeLange: “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” “Endie,” and “The Blues Are Brewin’.” Perhaps these are the items Billie sang at Symphony Hall. I’d like to think so.
Thanks to YouTube, we can listen to them now. “The Blues Are Brewin’” is up first with “New Orleans” following. Numerous heavy hitters are in the band: Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, Zutty Singleton, etc.