Louis Prima

Annie Lee | Sep 10, 2022

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Louis Prima (New Orleans, December 7, 1910 - id., August 24, 1978) was an American jazz trumpeter.

He was known as "the King of Swing" for the great works he composed.


The son of Sicilians, Angelina and Antonio Prima, during his student years he finished high school at a Jesuit school. Louis learned to play the violin. Reportedly, being from a very poor family where they could not afford a violin, he made one out of a cigar box. Years later he decided to give up the violin and play the trumpet, as did his brother Leon Prima, who in addition to the trumpet played the piano. Louis Prima's musical career began with the creation of his first group: Little Collegiates.


He started in a neighborhood band during the 1920s in New Orleans, developing the classic style of the city, the New Orleans Style. Throughout his career he led numerous bands and orchestras of varied musical styles, such as a swing band in the 1930s, a big band in the 1940s, a pop-rock band in the 1940s, and a pop-rock band in the 1940s.

In the 1930s, he joined trumpeter Red Nichols to form the New Orleans Gang, which included seven other musicians. During this period he recorded more than 70 songs, including Sing, sing, sing, sing. In 1936 he appeared in the movies, in a musical film called Rythmn on the Range, directed by Bing Crosby; he also appeared in other films as a minor actor, for example Rose of Washington Square.

Greatest successes

In the 40's, he was part of a big band and with it he composed some of his most famous songs, such as "Angelina" or "Civilization". During this time he resided in the city of Las Vegas. During the war he was sent to the U.S. bases in Iceland and Greenland, where he played for the U.S. Army. After the war he continued to compose hits in the United States. He composed the soundtrack for Robin Hood and brought Keely Smith into his band. They had great success in the song they composed together called "Oh Babe".

In the 1950s, Louis Prima and Keely Smith married. During this time Prima used another tonic, mixing Italian with English and creating great hits such as Buona Sera. They both received the Grammy for best song, "That Old Black Magic" in 1958, the first year of the award celebration. In 1956, he recorded his version of "Just a Gigolo" (a late 1920s original) in a medley with the popular standard "I Ain't Got Nobody" (originally composed in 1915).

The 60s were not very good years for the singer: he divorced Keely in 1961 and his father and mother passed away. But it wasn't all bad, Louis signed a multimillion dollar contract with Desert Inn in Las Vegas, he also filmed Twist all Night and voiced the character of King Louie in Disney's animated movie The Jungle Book.

Illness and death

Prima suffered a heart attack in 1973. Two years later, she presented with cephalalalgia (headaches) and episodes of memory loss, received medical attention and was diagnosed with a nervous system tumor in the brainstem. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and went into a coma after surgery. He never regained his alertness and remained in a vegetative state and died three years later, in 1978, after being transferred back to New Orleans. He was buried in Metairie Cemetery in a gray marble crypt topped by a figure of Gabriel, the trumpeter angel, sculpted in 1997 by Russian-born sculptor Alexei Kazantsev. The inscription on the door of the crypt quotes the lyrics of one of his hits, "When the end comes, I know, they'll say, 'just a gigolo' while life goes on without me..."

Louis got involved in jazz at a very young age and perfected his trumpet technique by imitating his idols of the time, Louis Armstrong or King Oliver. His later evolution did not eliminate the sonorous brilliance of these early influences.

Fans knew Prima as a cool and patient celebrity: she always signed autographs or posed for photos with a smile. To record companies and major corporations, however, Prima showed little deference, and was adamant about seeking adequate compensation for her work.

Warner Brothers offered her $60,000 to appear in a film based on the life of Helen Morgan, but she turned down the offer; when the studio increased the offer to $75,000, it still wasn't enough. Prima wanted $100,000 and creative control of her role, which Warner Brothers refused. He had also protracted disputes with the Strand Theatre in Ithaca and Majestic Records, and flatly refused to allow a former collaborator to advertise herself as "featured in Louis Prima's orchestra."

Prima had expensive tastes: she shopped in luxury clothing stores and always wore suits of the best brands. He spent large sums on horse racing and on his own private stable of horses. He said he enjoyed gambling because it relaxed him; riding was another thing that relaxed him the most outside of his busy life. He knew each of his horses well and read about their training. Another hobby of his was sailing. He bought a boat for his third wife, Tracelene Barrett, for their honeymoon on the Hudson River.

Keely Smith was twenty years old when she met Prima in August 1948. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, she made a point of stopping by the Surf Club in Virginia Beach for a visit. To her surprise, Prima was looking for a new vocalist to replace Lily Ann Carol. Smith was wearing a bathing suit and was not allowed into the club until she was properly dressed. Fortunately, someone was able to lend her some acceptable clothing and she auditioned for Prima. She got the part and was soon traveling on tour with her band.

Prima signed with Columbia Records in the fall of 1951 to keep up with the rapidly changing marketing industry. Throughout his sixteen-month contract, his top hits consisted of "Chop Suey, Chow Mein", "Ooh-Dahdily-Dah" and "Chili Sauce". Then to manage his expenses, he was forced to abandon his big band and play in smaller clubs in order to support his horses. On top of all this, he divorced his third wife Tracelene on June 18, 1953. Less than a month later he married Keely. She was open to criticism, and he wanted to make her a star. He tried to find the style that would fit her properly, especially since rock and roll was emerging. Prima wasn't against rock 'n' roll like other artists, such as Frank Sinatra and Jackie Gleason. He agreed that "kids had an instinct for the kind of music that's fun to listen to and dance to."


  1. Louis Prima
  2. Louis Prima
  3. ^ a b Huey, Steve. "Louis Prima Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  4. ^ Clavin, Tom (2010). That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith, and the Golden Age of Las Vegas. Chicago Review Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-1556528217.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av aw ax ay az ba bb bc bd be bf bg bh Boulard, Garry (2002). Louis Prima. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252070907.
  6. (en inglés) [1] The Recording Academy. Consultado el 14 de septiembre de 2012.
  7. a b c d e Boulard, Garry. (2002). Louis Prima. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-07090-9. OCLC 48851271. Consultado el 17 de mayo de 2020.
  8. a b Nick Toshe: Unsung Heroes of Rock And Roll. 1991, S. 83.
  9. « Basin street blues Williams, Sp. », sur Bibliothèques spécialisées de la Ville de Paris (consulté le 10 janvier 2018).
  10. Reportage sur la création des personnages du livre de la jungle d'après Louis Prima.

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