Satchmo

  
                                     Satchmo
                           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.

                                 Old Satchmo’s
    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.

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces. View all posts by Joe

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