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Louis Prima

 

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Of all the musical giants of the past seven decades, specifically since the days of the big swing bands and Dixieland jazz, there is one who stands out amongst them all as the greatest contributor towards modern music and the course it eventually took. His name is Louis Prima and it all started when he took off at the once-famed 52nd Street in New York City. prima1

As a bold, talented, ambitious youngster, Prima rose from the rank-and-file of musicians in the now acknowledged great training ground of New Orleans in 1934 and headed for the "Big Time" in the city of New York. After a few weeks of waiting for the right opening, he was finally given the opportunity to debut at the then inconspicuous "Famous Door." By virtue of the Louis Prima Band becoming a smash hit in the small-but-jumping club, the entire 52nd Street, between Fifth Avenue and Broadway, was renamed "Swing Street."

Thus, a whole new era of music began, with Louis coining such expressions as "swing" and other "hep" sayings like "solid jack," "crazy man," and many more. Later, it was decided to name Benny Goodman the King of Swing, but only as a result of a big hit on the song "Sing Sing Sing," written by Louis Prima - so what does that tell you?

prima2 The swing trend continued through the Prima drive. Then, when he received a contract for his band to play over CBS radio twice a week, swing was brought to everyone all over America. His music then started to top the sales of the then number one band, Guy Lombardo.

A few years passed and Louis hit again, this time with his twenty-two piece orchestra, on a now million seller "plus" titled, "Angelina." It started the whole country talking about pizza, veal parmegiana, pasta fagiole, and antipasto. These words were never before used in American life unless you happened to be a descendant of Italy (Edited by bradley snowball). These songs picked up great momentum, with one smash after another, like, "Josephina," "Please No Squeeza Da Banana," "Bacciagaloop, Makes Love on the Stoop," "Felicia No Capicia," and on and on.

The year was 1944 and the Italian trend gained momentum. Through the next four years hair styles, dresses, suits, shoes, hats, etc. reflected Italian designers and all because of "Angelina." The door also opened for many great Italian singers such as Perry Como, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Buddy Greco, Phil Brito, Dean Martin, etc. The popular DJ of time, Martin Block, crowned Louis "The King" over the Dorsey's Woody Herman, Charlie Barnett, and others.

Louis made history in the theatres, breaking house records wherever he appeared. The Palace Theatre, Cleveland - The Metropolitan, Providence - The Earl, Philadelphia - The Adams, Newark - The Downtown, Detroit - The Oriental, Chicago. He appeared an unprecedented three times, in one year, at the greatest theatre of them all, The Paramount Theatre in New York City. Louis was welcomed with open arms at the famous black theatres of the time, such as The Royal Theatre, Baltimore - The Howard, Washington, D.C. and while performing there received a personal invitation to the White House by Mrs. Elenore Roosevelt, who came to see Louis and the Band. Also, The Regal, Chicago - The Paradise, Detroit, and last but not least, the famed Apollo Theatre in New York's Harlem. prima3

Louis then introduced novelty songs into his format and scored some great hits with the likes of "Civilization" (The Thousand Island Song), "Oh Babe," of which there ten covers by other bands.

Going into the fifties, Elvis Presley had the country "All Shook Up" and when asked where he got the wiggle, he replied, "From Louis Prima, of course." Louis knew that the times were changing and if he wanted to stay on top, he would have to change as well. He down-sized the big band to a small group and added the sounds and talents of the great sax-man Sam Butera and vocalist, Keely Smith. He performed magic again by developing a shuffle beat, combined with a New Orleans southern rock sound, added the wailing sax and for comedic value, transformed the vocalist into the dead-pan partner that he could play off of. Needless to say, history was again being written. The string of hits that followed included "Just a Gigolo - I Ain't Got Nobody," "Buona Sera," "Black Magic," "Zooma, Zooma," "When You're Smilin'," and on and on. Louis Prima was not just Louis Prima - he was the "Big Daddy" of them all! And he was the leader of the most talked about attraction in America. He was easily the youngest living legend in show business. In night clubs from coast to coast. . .on theatre screens. . .on television. . .on stage. . .on recordings. . .wherever discriminating audiences gathered for exciting entertainment, they looked first for Louis Prima.

In the truest sense of the words, Louis Prima was a "star." His name alone commanded top billing for some forty-seven years. From the time he was eighteen years old and the leader of his own group, Louis set a standard of showmanship seldom equaled and never surpassed!! He continues to receive the highest compliment that show business can convey - imitation!! Louis Prima's style is more than an exciting entertainment spectacle; it is a goal to which performers will always aspire.

prima4 These facts have their basis in the background of this magnificent man of music. His beginnings were actually his training on the violin. Until he was fifteen years of age, Louis was headed for a career as a concert violinist. The sheer physical brawn of Prima, as well as the hardening rigors of high school football, soon made it impossible for him to feel the sensitivities of the violin. It was then that he tried his brother Leon's trumpet and never put it down again.

Less than a handful of performers make the transition from one generation to another. Louis' successes are not limited by any such arbitrary standards. His music is just as refreshing today as the day he first played it.

1960 brought an end to the Prima-Smith marriage off stage and on. Despite what you may read or hear elsewhere, Louis did not become a drinker or gambler as Smith now contends. She filed for divorce, had other interests for her career, and refused to complete their current contract with the Desert Inn Hotel. As a result, at the end of the contract, Louis received a check for $000,000.00. Louis never set foot in the Desert Inn again. Again, this did not stop Louis from his continual pursuit of the best he could be. He conducted a talent search from the west coast to the east coast. His fans continued to follow him, love his music, and were curious to see where he was going next.

The rage, at the time, was the twist. Louis loved it so much that he made a movie called "Twist All Night." June Wilkeson was his co-star, and the twist was never the same after Louis put his own unique stamp on it. During this time, Louis still conducted auditions from coast to coast looking for that special person to join him on stage. This time, he wanted an innocence, a cherub-like naivety. It took him two years, but he found her. Louis took two years to find his new singing partner, but he finally found her while performing at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He introduced Gia Maione four days later, at Basin Street East in New York City to standing room only, the largest press ever in attendance, and Louis invented himself all over again. The year: 1962.

The new group consisted of Gia Maione, Sam Butera, Lou Sino, Drummer Jimmy Vincent, Rolly Dee the Italian Troubador, and multi-instrument player Morgan Thomas. prima5


During the 60s and 70s Louis continued to break attendance records at The Sahara Hotel, The Sands Hotel, The Hilton and Tropicana Hotels in Las Vegas, Harrah's Reno and Tahoe, The Copacabana in New York City, The Palmer House, Chicago, Ben Maksik' Town and Country, New York, The Bachelors Three, Fort Lauderdale, and theaters in the round throughout the country.

Not getting the attention he required from the major record labels, Louis started his own recording company called "Prima Magnagroove Records." The year was 1964, the world was contending with the British invasion of The Beatles. But this could not hold Louis back. He became one of the first independent record producers. He purchased the finest recording equipment of the time and proceeded to record himself and continued doing so and signing others to his record label throughl 1975. One of his early discoveries was a young JOhnny Rivers who would later top the charts with hits of his own. Louis' recordings for his Prima label are artistic hightlights in his five-decade long recording career. The Prima label list consists of:

  • Prima Show in the Casbar
  • King of Clubs
  • Thinking Man Sax
  • This is Gia
  • Golden Hits of Louis Prima
  • New Sounds of the Louis Prima Band
  • Blast Off
  • Prima Generation
  • Angelina
  • Gigolo
  • The Wildest '75
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Louis' love for golf drove him to build his own course, which he called Warm Springs Country Club, better known as "Fairway to the Stars." This gave him a wonderful outlet away from show business. He would play golf everyday with his buddies during the day and perform on stage at night.

In 1966 Louis Prima was approached by Walt Disney to do an animated feature film for him. This led to a whole new venue for Louis. He became the voice of "King Louis," the orangutan, in the award winning Disney production of "The Jungle Book." The film was nominated for an Oscar and Louis received a gold album for the sound-track recording of the same.


Life was great and there was no stopping Louis. The following is a list of his television appearances during the years 1962-1975:

  • Ed Sullivan
  • The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
  • The Dean Martin Show
  • The Mike Douglas Show
  • The Bob Hope Special
  • Danny Thomas' America I Love You
  • The David Frost Show
  • The Joey Bishop Show
  • Art Linkletter's House Party
  • The Merv Griffin Show
  • The Steve Lawrence Show: New York Italian Style
  • The Easter Seals Telethon

Although he lapsed into a coma in October of 1975 and passed away of August 24, 1978, his legend and music live on.

The Disco era did not over-look Louis. David Lee Roth was not the first to re-record "Just A Gigolo." The first group to do it was none other than "The Village People" on their first smash album along with "YMCA." Louis' great "Sing, Sing, Sing" was also on the Disco charts for almost one year, as recorded by the Charlie Callelo Orchestra.

Louis' his award winning composition "Sing Sing Sing" was placed into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Louis' life was featured at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans in the Italian Exhibit. In the 80s, David Lee Roth recorded a word for word, note for note, solo for solo copy of Louis' "Just a Gigolo - I ain't Got Nobody," which won Roth awards for the song and video. 1989 brought Louis to the attention of country music charts, with Reba McEntyre's recording of Louis' composition "Sunday Kind of Love." Louis received an ASCAP Writers Award for this song and recording.

On to the 90s. . . .the "Gap" stores brought Louis and swing music to the attention of a whole new generation. Their television commercial, "Khakis Swing" used another great song that Louis wrote and recorded entitled "Jump, Jive and Wail." This song and commercial gave life to such groups as "The Cherry Poppin Daddies," the "Big Bad VooDoo Daddy," the "Royal Crown Revue," and the "Brian Setzer Orchestra." Setzer copied Louis' exact arrangement except for adding a guitar solo. Needless to say, Setzer received a "Grammy" for this recording of "Jump, Jive and Wail" thanks to Louis' arrangement and talent. prima8


In the late 90s Mr. Don McGlynn and Mr. Joe Lauro produced and filmed a brilliant biography of Louis entitled Louis Prima: The Wildest. Prima Music LLC collaborated on the film. It has won film festival awards and great critical acclaim. It has been released on DVD, and televised on American Movie Classics and PBS stations across the USA.

Louis' music and compositions have appeared in numerous motion pictures and television programs. The following is a list of some of the films and shows in which the music of Louis Prima has appeared:

  • Leatherheads (2008) (Sing,Sing,Sing)
  • "The Sopranos" (1 episode, 2007) Remember When (2007) TV episode ("Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)")
  • Louis Prima: King of the Swingers (2007) BBC-TV
  • We Own The Night (2007) (Just A Gigolo, Should I)
  • Dancing With The Stars (2007) (Sing,Sing,Sing)
  • So You Think You Can Dance (2007) (Jump, Jive, and Wail)
  • Mission: Impossible III (2006) ("A Sunday Kind of Love")
  • Find Me Guilty (2006) (performer: "When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You)")
  • Where the Truth Lies (2005) (performer: "Josephine, Please No Lean on the Bell")
  • Kicking & Screaming (2005) (performer: "Angelina/Zooma Zooma”)
  • Elf (2003) (performer: "Pennies From Heaven" (1936))
  • Hollywood's Magical Island: Catalina (2003) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing" (1936))
  • Bright Young Things (2003) (writer: "Sing Sing Sing")
  • Anger Management (2003) (performer: "When You're Smiling")
  • Mwah! The Best of the Dinah Shore Show (2003) (TV) (writer: "I Ain't Got Nobody")
  • Below (2002) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing (With A Swing)")
  • Hyper (2002) (music: "Sing Sing Sing")
  • Mafia: Lost Heaven (2002) (VG) (performer: "'Long About Midnight", "Sing It 'Way Down Low", "I'm Living In A Great Big Way")
  • "Livshunger" (1 episode, 2002)Episode #1.6 (2002) TV Episode (music: "SING SING SING")
  • The Majestic (2001) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)")
  • Riding in Cars with Boys (2001) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing [With a Swing]")
  • Don't Say a Word (2001) (writer: "Fee Fie Foo") (performer: "Fee Fie Foo")
  • Bella Martha (2001) (performer: "Angelina - Zooma Zooma (Medley)")
  • "Great Performances: Dance in America" (1 episode, 2001)
  • From Broadway: Fosse (2001) TV Episode (music: "Sing, Sing, Sing") (lyrics: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Amy's Orgasm (2001) (writer: "Oh Louie (Oh Marie)")
  • Pollock (2000) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • My Dog Skip (2000) (performer: "Chasing Shadows")
  • Louis Prima: The Wildest (1999)
  • Liberty Heights (1999) (writer: "A Sunday Kind of Love")
  • The Bachelor (1999) (performer: "Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody (Medley)
  • One More Kiss (1999) (performer: "Hey Boy! Hey Girl!")
  • Mickey Blue Eyes (1999) (performer: "Just a Gigolo", "Buena Sera Senorita")
  • Swing (1999) (performer: "Five Months Two Weeks Two Days")
  • The Out-of-Towners (1999) (performer: "That Old Black Magic"
  • A Fish In the Bathtub (1999) (performer: After You’ve Gone)
  • Analyze This (1999) (writer: "Angelina (The Waitress At The Pizzeria)/Zooma Zooma Medley") (performer: "When You're Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You)", "Angelina (The Waitress At The Pizzeria)/Zooma Zooma Medley")
  • Blast from the Past (1999) (performer: "That Old Black Magic")
  • The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Permanent Midnight (1998) (performer: "WHEN YOU'RE SMILING (THE WHOLE WORLD SMILES WITH YOU)")
  • Dance with Me (1998) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)")
  • City of Angels (1998) (performer: "Hey! Ba-Ba-Re-Bop")
  • Lolita (1997) (performer: "Civilization (Bongo Bongo Bongo)")
  • Deconstructing Harry (1997) (writer: "Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing)")
  • Weapons of Mass Distraction (1997) (TV) (performer: "JUMP, JIVE, 'N' WAIL") ("JUMP, JIVE, 'N' WAIL")
  • Going All the Way (1997) ("A Sunday Kind Of Love")
  • Bogus (1996) (writer: "Banana Split For My Baby") (performer: "Banana Split For My Baby")
  • Big Night (1996) (performer: "Buona Sera", "Oh Marie", "Love of My Life (O Sole Mio)", "Five Months, Two Weeks, Two Days")
  • Casino (1995) (writer: "Angelina/Zooma, Zooma Medley") (performer: "Angelina/Zooma, Zooma Medley", "Basin Street Blues/When It's Sleepy Time Down South Medley", "I'm Confessing That I Love You", "Sing Sing Sing")
  • Forget Paris (1995) (performer: "Lazy River")
  • Destiny Turns on the Radio (1995) (performer: "That old black magic" - end titles)
  • Cobb (1994) (performer: "That Old Black Magic")
  • Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) ("Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing)")
  • Swing Kids (1993) (writer: "SING, SING, SING (WITH A SWING)")
  • Mad Dog and Glory (1993) (performer: "That Old Black Magic" (1942), "Just a Gigolo" (1929), "I Ain't Got Nobody" (1915))
  • Mac (1992) (performer: "JUST A GIGOLO (I AIN'T GOT NOBODY)")
  • The Butcher's Wife (1991) ("SING, SING, SING")
  • "The Man in the Family" (1991) TV Series (unknown episodes)
  • Love Hurts (1991) (writer: "SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE")
  • Awakenings (1990) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • New York Stories (1989) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Mystic Pizza (1988) (performer: "I AIN'T GOT NOBODY")
  • Big Business (1988) (writer: "SING SING SING")
  • American Pop (1981) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
 
  • They All Laughed (1981) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Raging Bull (1980) (performer: "I Ain't Got Nobody")
  • All That Jazz (1979) (music: "Sing, Sing, Sing") (lyrics: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • The Jungle Book (1967) (performer: "I Wan'na Be Like You (The Monkey Song)")
  • A Man Called Flintstone (1966) (performer: "Pensate Amore")
  • The Benny Goodman Story (1955) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Shack Out on 101 (1955) (writer: "A SUNDAY KIND OF LOVE")
  • Swing Cat's Jamboree (1938) (performer: "Way Down Yonder In New Orleans", "Loch Lomond") ("I Can't Give You Anything But Love")
  • Hollywood Hotel (1937) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
  • Manhattan Merry-Go-Round (1937) ("I Owe You")
  • Torture Money (1937) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing") Oscar Winner Best Short Subject, Two-reel
  • After the Thin Man (1936) (music: "Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing)") (lyrics: "Sing Sing Sing (With A Swing)")
  • Swing Banditry (1936) (writer: "Sing, Sing, Sing")
 

We are constantly placing Louis' music in an endless array of major advertising campaigns every year. Louis’ music has been featured recently in commercials for The Gap, Coca-Cola, Nike, Fiat, Talbot’s, General Motors, Commerce Bank of America, and the film trailer for Mr. Bean’s Holiday to name a few.  

Louis was honored on the Grammy Awards telecast in February, 2008 with a special tribute to the 50th anniversary of his receipt of the first Grammy for his recording of That old Black Magic. 2007 marked the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney’s immortal collaboration with Louis Prima on the classic 1967 animated film The Jungle Book. The phenomenal sales of the newly released Jungle Book DVD set are a testament to the enduring popularity of the film and Louis Prima. The 2006Academy Awards telecast also featured Louis Prima's music. His recording of “I Wanna Be Like You” from The Jungle Book  was played under a montage of famous movie primates starting with the original King Kong (1933) through Bedtime for Bonzo, Planet of the Apes and many more. 

 Louis Prima's classic recording of Buona Sera was featured during the closing ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics!!! It was an exciting moment and the perfect way to end the Winter Olympics with a BANG!!! Earlier that year, his recording of Beep, Beep! was played to awaken the NASA Space Shuttle astronauts while on their last mission in outer space. The event was broadcast by all of the major television and radio news channels and reported in newspapers everywhere. Louis’ classic recording of Oh Marie is soon to be featured in the blockbuster video game Mafia 2. Louis Prima’s music is played every day over the worldwide radio airwaves, on the Internet, in businesses and private homes further illustrating that HIS music IS the soundtrack to our lives! 


Prima Music, L.L.C. controls hundreds of songs and masters from Louis' own Prima label and vintage concerts and broadcasts. The Prima label recordings include many of Louis' best loved songs like “Just a Gigolo”, “I Wanna Be Like You” (from The Jungle Book), “Civilization”, “Oh Marie”, “That Old Black Magic”, “Sing,Sing,Sing” and “As Time Goes By”, “Story 'Bout the Dog", "Las Vegas Woman" ,"My Dinga Won't Ding" ,and the last song he recorded, " I’m Leavin' You.". Check the music page at LouisPrima.com for further details. All of our digitally remastered stereo recordings feature Mr. Prima at his happy, fun and swingin' best with Sam Butera and the Witnesses. These recordings are a phenomenal part of musical history…listening is like journeying in a time machine back to the Las Vegas lounge scene of a bygone era…  

Our latest collaboration with BBC television is entitled Legends: Louis Prima: King of the Swingers. This fascinating film tells Louis Prima’s story utilizing exclusive materials from the Prima Archives. All of the photos featured in the new film are from The Louis Prima Archives. The film premiered on BBC television on 11-4-07. Prima Music, L.L.C. collaborated with BBC TV throughout 2007 on this fantastic project!  

We are currently in negotiations regarding the Official Louis Prima book and the motion picture. 

So don't go 'way! "THE BEST IS YET TO COME!!!!!!"

 

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