The Armstrong-Zulu Connection

Zulu parade reveler strip Louis Armstrong's float in 1949 (Source:Arthur Hardy)
Zulu parade reveler strip Louis Armstrong's float in 1949 (Source:Arthur Hardy)

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - The year was 1949. It was the same year that Harry S. Truman was sworn in for his first full term as President of the United States and RCA perfected a system for broadcasting color television.

It was also a year that New Orleans' own Louis Armstrong was on top of the music world.

Even though the man who became known as "Satchmo" traveled the world, there was something about his love for the Krewe of Zulu that drew him back to New Orleans.

"It was unbelievable his whole dream was to be king of Zulu. He and Johnny Metoyer, who was one of the presidents in the earlier days, they were very good boyhood friends. They were very young boys when they started seeing Zulu's parade around Perdido Street.  
They wanted to be members from day one and when Louis Armstrong became famous, his whole dream was to become king," Zulu Historian Clarence Becknell said.
In 1949, Armstrong's dream came true.

"Here he is king of Zulu and you would think he just wanted to ride and have fun, but he was working," Carnival historian Arthur Hardy said.

Armstrong did four concerts in four days around the time of his ride as King Zulu.

On that morning of March first, Armstrong took his seat on the king's float and he greeted thousands of revelers waiting to catch a glimpse of the jazz legend.

But, Armstrong didn't get the chance to make the entire ride.

"The float broke down at North Prieur and Galvez and they couldn't fix the float because the chassis had broke. They took him off the float because spectators started grabbing at the float trying to get to Louis Armstrong. They whisked him away in a limousine and they stripped down the float to its chassis," said Becknell.

Armstrong became an honorary member of Zulu in the early 1930's. He even sponsored Zulu's baseball during the summer of 1931.

"I actually visited his home in New York this summer and became even more fascinated by the story and found some pictures of the Secret Nine, the Zulu baseball team. He bought uniforms for them and for an entire summer he threw out the first pitch at every game," Hardy added.

It's something Becknell said furthered Armstrong's important influence on the krewe.

"We look at Louis Armstrong as an ambassador for Zulu during that era. Had it not been for him gracing the pages and front cover of Time magazine no one would have known about Zulu. In that particular magazine, he talks about his life as a boy in New Orleans. Throughout his whole travels, everything was Zulu. He was so proud to be king of Zulu," said Becknell.

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