Louis Armstrong, 1965
In 1967, Marine Lance Corporal Villec, stationed in Vietnam, wrote a fan letter to Louis Armstrong. What's reproduced here is the jazz great's amazing reposnse to that piece of fan mail — at once intimate, heartfelt, and wonderful. You see in its pages (it's five handwritten pages) a breezy familiarity with a man, we can only assume, Armstrong had never met in person, and a willingness to be frank and thoughtful about his own life's work and its challenges.
Armstrong's unique punctuation, with unexpected capitalizations, underlinings and quotation marks, is preserved here.
Corona New York'
Dear L/Cpl, Villec"
I'd like to 'step in here for a 'Minute or 'so' to ''tell you how much—I 'feel to know that 'you are a 'Jazz fan, and 'Dig' 'that 'Jive—the 'same as 'we 'do, "yeah." "Man—I carry an 'Album, 'loaded with 'Records—'Long playing 'that is. And when I am 'Shaving or 'Sitting on the 'Throne with 'Swiss Kriss' in me—That Music 'sure 'brings out those 'Riffs' 'Right Along with 'Swiss Kriss, which I 'take 'every night or when I go to bed. 'Yeah. I give myself a 'Concert with those 'records. 'Music is 'life it'self. What would this 'world be without 'good music? No matter 'what kind it is.
It 'all came from the Old 'Sanctified 'Churches. I can remember—'way back in the 'old days in 'New Orleans, La—'My home town. And I was a little Boy around 'ten years old. My Mother used to take me to 'Church with her, and the Reverend ('Preacher that is') used to 'lead off one' of those 'good ol good 'Hymns. And before you realized it—the 'whole 'Congregation would be "Wailing—'Singing like 'mad and 'sound so 'beautiful. 'I 'being a little boy that would "Dig" 'Everything and 'everybody, I'd have myself a 'Ball in 'Church, especially when those 'Sisters 'would get 'So 'Carried away while "Rev" (the preacher) would be 'right in the 'Middle of his 'Sermon. 'Man those 'Church 'Sisters would 'begin 'Shouting 'So—until their 'petticoats would 'fall off. Of course 'one of the 'Deacons would 'rush over and 'grab her—'hold her in his 'Arms and 'fan her until 'she'd 'Come 'to.
Then there were those "Baptisms—that's when someone wants to be converted by Joining the 'Church and get 'religion. So they have to be 'Baptized. 'Dig this—I remember 'one Sunday the 'Church had a 'great big Guy they had to 'Baptize. So these 'Deacons all 'Standing in this 'River—in 'Water up to their waist in their 'white 'Robes. They had 'Baptized 'several 'women and a few 'Men—'saved their 'Souls. When in 'Walks' a 'Great 'big' 'burly 'Sinner' who came down the line. So—'these 'Deacons whom were 'very 'strong 'themselves, they grabbed 'hold of this 'Cat and said to him as they 'ducked him down into the water, as they let him they asked him—"Brother 'do you 'Believe?" The Guy didn't say 'anything—Just looked at them. So they 'Ducked him down into that 'River again, 'only they 'held him down there a 'few minutes 'Longer. So when the 'Deacons looked in the guy's eye and said to him—"Do you 'Believe?" This Guy finally 'answered—he said "Yes—I Believe you 'Son of Bitches trying to 'drown me."
P.S. I guess you think I'm 'Nuts. 'Nay 'Nay. I only 'mentioned these incidents because it all was 'built around 'Music. In fact, it's 'All Music. "You 'Dig? The 'Same as we did in my 'Home Town 'New Orleans'—those 'Funeral Marches etc. "Why 'Gate" 'Villec, we 'played those 'Marches with 'feeling from our 'hearts. 'All the way to the Cemetery—'Brass Band of course. The 'Snare drummer would put a 'handkerchief under the 'snares of his 'drum to 'deaden the 'Sound while 'playing on the way to the Cemetery—"Flee as a Bird." But as 'soon as the 'preacher 'say "Ashes to 'Ashes—'Dust to 'Dust"—the "Snare Drummer Commence 'pulling the handkerchief from his 'drum, and make a 'long roll' to 'assemble everybody, including the members of the 'dead man's 'Lodge—or 'Club. 'Then we'd 'return 'back to the 'headquarters 'playing "Didn't he 'Ramble" or "When the Saints Go Marching In." You 'See? 'StillMusic."
I said 'All of that to Keep 'Music in your 'heart the 'same as 'you're 'doing. And 'Daddy—you 'Can't 'go 'wrong. 'Myself and my 'All Stars' are 'Playing here at the 'Harrods 'Club (Reno) for 'Three weeks. My 'wife 'Lucille as 'joined me here. The 'rest will do her lots of good. She was 'operated on for a 'Tumor, about the 'Middle of 'July. She's improving 'very 'Rapidly. Her 'Doctor who 'operated on her at the 'Beth 'Israel Hospital' in New York told her—'She could go to 'Reno and 'spend some time if 'you (Lucille) + your 'husband (Satchmo) 'promised to 'behave 'yourselves and 'don't try to 'do the "Vonce" ("meaning 'Sex). I 'Said—"Doc I 'Promise—But I'll 'Just 'touch it 'lightly every 'morning—to see if it's 'still 'there. 'Ha 'Ha. 'Life's 'sweet. 'Just the 'thought that 'Lucille is 'through with her 'little 'Hindrance—and "soon "be well and 'happy—'be 'her 'lil 'ol 'cute 'self 'again—'Just "knock's' meout.
'Well 'Bre'r 'Villec, I guess I'll 'put it 'down, and get some 'shuteye." It's the 'Wee 'hours in the 'Morning. I've 'Just 'finished 'Work. I am too 'tired to 'raise an 'eye 'lid. Tee hee. So I'll leave this little message with you. "Here goes'.
When you 'Walk—through a 'Storm—
Put your 'Head—up 'high—
And 'Don't be Afraid of the 'Dark—
At the 'End of a 'Storm—
Is a 'Gol-den 'Sky—
And a Sweet Silver 'Song—
Of a 'Lark—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Wind—
'Walk—'on—through the 'Rain—
Though your 'Dreams be "Tossed and 'Blown—
With 'Hope in your heart
And 'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk 'A-'lone—
You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk A-lone—
(one more time)
'Walk—'on—'Walk—'on—with 'Hope in your 'heart—And 'you'll
Nev-er 'Walk 'A-lone—'You'll 'Nev-er 'Walk—'A-lone—. "Savvy?
Give my regards to the fellows that's in your company. And the other fellows too. And now I'll do you 'Just like the 'Farmer did the 'Potato—I'll 'Plant you 'Now and 'Dig you 'later. I'll 'Close now. It's a real 'Pleasure 'Writing—'You.
You'll Never Walk Alone
This letter is taken from Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings. For more on "Swiss Kriss," a brand of herbal laxative, see this story from NPR.
We want to take a moment to acknowledge the service of the women and men who have served the US in the military. The veterans of any war remind us that military service exacts a huge price from those who serve in uniform and those who remain at home and await their return.
We honor that service and that vigilance. And voice our earnest hope that — someday — men and women and their families will no longer be called upon to make those sacrifices.
As you examine photojournalist Lucian Read's portraits of some of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, listen to the music of Alex McMurray — and his song "1914."
1914 Washington, DC: Portraits - Winter Soldiers - Images by Lucian Read