Armstrong’s Fan Club – Part II

In 1957, Armstrong and the All Stars went on a goodwill tour of several South American countries including Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela. After landing at Buenos Aires’ airport, a welcome party consisting of some 5,000 ecstatic Argentines, greeted Armstrong and the All Stars on the tarmac. Two police escorts attempted to help Armstrong and the All Stars deplane and walk through the crowd safely. However, the limited security personnel proved insufficient. The eager fans overpowered the police escorts and surrounded Armstrong. In response firefighters arrived on the scene and sprayed firehose water on the fans to calm them. When recalling his welcome in Buenos Aires, Armstrong stated, “People don’t realize, one lick in the mouth and I’m through. I sure appreciate the enthusiasm but one pop on the mouth and there won’t be any music…Do they always receive celebrities that way here?”[1] During Armstrong’s stay in Buenos Aires, he wrote to his manager Joe Glaser and requested that he send him one of “Yogi Berra’s catcher masks” so he could protect his face and lips from eager Argentine fans. 

Armstrong arriving in Buenos Aires in 1957, Object ID: 1987.8.24
Lucille helping Armstrong put on his “Yogi Berra catcher mask,” Object ID: 2006.39.79

In the 1950s, wild and controlled fans greeted Armstrong and the All-Stars. The video featured below shows a relatively controlled group of fans in Switzerland welcoming the musicians. In the clip, Armstrong exits a plane holding his trumpet, stands on the airstair, and waves to fans. A band comprised of Swiss instrumentalists, some wearing traditional dress, plays for Armstrong and the All-Stars as they slowly descend the airstair. Armstrong joins in the music-making and then offers an impromptu performance of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Armstrong arriving in Switzerland, video clip from Satchmo the Great, Object ID: 2011.25.107

Armstrong was aware that his music could have a political, cultural, and social impact on his international and domestic fans. In a 1961 Ebony magazine article, he commented on one of the political impacts of his music when discussing his white American fanbase. He stated:

I don’t socialize with the top dogs of society after a dance or concert. Even though I’m invited I don’t go. These same society people may go around the corner and lynch a Negro. But while they’re listening to our music, they don’t think about trouble. What’s more they’re watching Negro and white musicians play side by side. And we bring contentment and pleasure. I always say, “Look at the nice taste we leave. It’s bound to mean something, that’s what music is for.”[2]

In the above quotation Armstrong suggests that certain sonic and visual aspects of his performances have the power to temporarily sideline the racial prejudices of some of his white fans. In an interview with a reporter in the 1950s, Armstrong remarked on a social impact of his music when he stated, “There is one thing about good jazz, you don’t have to worry about what they are talking about, but when they pick up those instruments, we all speak the same language.”[3] Here, Armstrong highlights jazz as a “universal language” and alludes to it as a tool for community-building among linguistically diverse individuals.

I am curious if Armstrong ever felt the need to set boundaries when dealing with fans. I did not find much in the LAHM archival collections that sheds light this topic, but I did locate a letter, written by Armstrong, in which he makes some backstage rules for his performances at the Roxy Theater. In the letter he requests that his manager Joe Glaser help him get a sign for the backstage door that reads:

To whom it may concern – no visitor allowed backstage during the hours of our stage show….We have a very large show – am very busy…Without a written note from the main office or Joe Glaser’s office – we’re forced to asked no one enter unless there’s business of very importance.[4]

When writing about the sign, Armstrong stated:

Don’t you think this sign should be posted on the wall so everybody could see it as soon as they come into the back stage door at the Roxy Theater. Then they can get insulted, etc. what ever they do – it wouldn’t matter anyway….Because you and I and the All Stars have gone out of our way to try and make people happy who really don’t deserve it…[5]

Armstrong’s tone in the last line of this quotation is interesting. He likely wrote this part of the letter when he was fed up with backstage nonsense, some of which could have been caused by fans. I am not suggesting that this letter captures Armstrong’s true feelings about fans or backstage visitors. Rather, it reveals that he was temporarily annoyed and wanted to regain control of his backstage space.  

Armstrong was known for being kind to his fans, even ones that reacted to his presence in over-the-top ways. He happily signed autographs, posed for pictures, and engaged in conversation. I will close with a couple lingering questions: Did Armstrong ever react to another celebrity as a fan or superfan? What kind of behavior did he exhibit when face-to-face with one of his musical idols?

[1] “Louis 1957-1959-Page 47,” Object ID: 2008.2.2,, The Louis Armstrong Archives.

[2] “Daddy How The Country Has Changed,” Ebony, Object ID: 1987.6.226,, The Louis Armstrong Archives.

[3] “Satchmo the Great,” Object ID: 2011.25.107,, The Louis Armstrong Archives.

[4] “Letter to Joe Glaser – ca. 1947-1950,” Object ID: 1997.26.1,, The Louis Armstrong Archives.

[5] Ibid.

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