By Melvin B. Tolson
King Oliver of New Orleans
has kicked the bucket, but he left behind
old Satchmo with his red-hot horn
to syncopate the heart and mind.
The honky-tonks in Storyville
have turned to ashes, have turned to dust,
but old Satchmo is still around
like Uncle Sam’s IN GOD WE TRUST.
Where, oh, where is Bessie Smith,
with her heart as big as the blues of truth?
Where, oh, where is Mister Jelly Roll,
with his Cadillac and diamond tooth?
Where, oh, where is Papa Handy
With his blue notes a-dragging from bar to bar?
Where, oh where is bulletproof Leadbelly
with his tall tales and 12-string guitar?
Old Hip Cats,
when you sang and played the blues
the night Satchmo was born,
did you know hypodermic needles in Rome
couldn’t hoodoo him away from his horn?
Wyatt Earp’s legend, John Henry’s, too,
is a dare and a bet to old Satchmo
when his groovy blues put headlines in the news
from the Gold Coast to cold Moscow.
gravelly voice and tapping foot and crazy notes
set my soul on fire.
If I climbed
the seventy-seven steps of the Seventh
Heaven, Satchmo’s high C would carry me higher!
Are you hip to this, Harlem? Are you hip?
On Judgment Day, Gabriel will say
after he blows his horn:
“I’d be the greatest trumpeter in the Universe
if old Satchmo had never been born!”
If you are not familiar with the name Satchmo, it was the nickname for Louis Armstrong. Louis had many nicknames as a child, all of which referred to the size of his mouth: “Gatemouth,” “Dippermouth,” and “Satchelmouth.” During a visit to Great Britain, Louis was met by Percy Brooks, the editor of Melody Maker magazine, who greeted him by saying, “Hello, Satchmo!” (He inadvertently contracted “Satchelmouth” into “Satchmo.”) Louis loved the new name and adopted it for his own. It provides the title to Louis’s second autobiography, is inscribed on at least two of Louis’s trumpets, and is on Louis’s stationery.
Armstrong has always been a New Orleans legend and the airport is named Louis Armstrong International Airport. Since I am heading there with my boyfriend today, I thought this made an appropriate poem.
P.S. I have a job interview this morning before we leave. Hopefully, it will go well. It’s not an ideal job, but it would be something until I find something better.