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Louis Prima

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Louis Prima (December 7, 1910 - August 24, 1978) was born into a musical family in New Orleans. His family emigrated from Sicily, Italy, and after a brief stay in Argentina settled in the United States. Prima studied violin for several years as a child. His older brother Leon was a well regarded local bandleader. Prima was proud of his heritage, and made a point of letting the audience know at every performance that he was Italian-American and from New Orleans. His singing and playing showed that he absorbed many of the same influences as his fellow Crescent City musician, Louis Armstrong, particularly in his hoarse voice and scat singing.

In his youth, Prima played trumpet with Irving Fazola, his brother’s band, and the pit band of the Saenger Theater. In 1933 he began his busy recording career, as part of the David Rose orchestra at station WGN, Chicago; he was also part of the small recording group The Hotcha Trio, with Rose on piano and Norman Gast on violin. In 1934 Prima moved to New York, working regularly on 52nd Street with old New Orleans friends like Eddie Miller (tenor sax and clarinet) and George Brunies (trombone), and also new acquaintances like Pee Wee Russell (clarinet). Prima’s informal jazz group was known as Louis Prima and His New Orleans Gang, and this band recorded prolifically for Brunswick through 1936, and then for Vocalion and Decca.

Prima’s 1936 composition, “Sing Sing Sing”, which he had released with the New Orleans Gang in March, 1936 as a Brunswick 78, Brunswick 7628, with “It’s Been So Long” as the B side, became one of his biggest hits and one of the most covered standards of the swing era; Benny Goodman’s performance of the song at Carnegie Hall with a featured performance by Gene Krupa on drums has become iconic.

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