A Louis Armstrong Christmas Story
As Told by Lucille Armstrong
Louis Armstrong’s wife, Lucille, was on the road with her husband one Christmas season. She shared this memory:
I got a little small Christmas tree and I got all the decorations for it, and set it up in the hotel room while Louis was at work. I didn’t say anything to him about it. So when he came in about three o’clock this tree was set up with the blinking lights, you know? So we talked around a while. I gave him his Christmas presents—had all the Christmas presents under the tree, and gave him his, and those that I had for a few special friends in the band.
We finally went to bed. And Louis was still laying up in the bed watching the tree; his eyes just like a baby’s eyes would watch something. So I finally asked him—I said, “Well, I’ll turn the lights out now on the tree.” He said, “No, don’t turn them out. I have to just keep looking at it.” He said, “You know, that’s the first tree I ever had.”
Well, I hadn’t realized that, you know? Louis was forty years old, and it seems to me that in forty years a person would have at least one tree. I was all swollen up inside when he told me that. We were to leave the next day for Kansas City. I figured Christmas is over; today’s the 26th now; I’ll leave the tree. So Louis said, “No, don’t leave the tree; take the tree with you.” And he had me take this tree on those one-nighters. Before I even unpacked a bag, I had to set that tree up, his Christmas tree. And I’ve had one for him every year. Louis hasn’t been home too often for Christmas, but whenever he has been home, he’s had a tree the length of the room.
I kept that first little tree until way after New Year’s, putting it up every night and taking it down every morning, in a dozen hotels. And when I did take it down for its last time, Louis wanted me to mail it home. It was a real tree, not an artificial one, and I had to convince him—I really had to convince him—that the tree would dry up.
Excerpted from Bill Crow’s Jazz Anecdotes, with the author’s permission.