HISTORICAL ROW: LOUIS ARMSTRONG AT WESLEYAN
Over the decades, any number of luminaries have visited campus, and not just to accept honorary degrees. Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and his All-Stars, including Edmund Hall, Trummy Young, Billy Kyle, Bobby Hackett, and singer Velma Middleton, played a rollicking, sold-out concert in the old Cage (now the site of the Usdan Campus Center) on May 2, 1958. Bob Kirkpatrick ’60, vice chairman of the Social Committee, recalls that the concert was a big hit. Hank Tausend ’58, in his Argus review, wrote “Louis Armstrong hit the Wesleyan campus like a cyclone. Everyone will be talking about him for quite some time after his departure.” The Middletown Press reporter observed, “Wes boys in boaters, Bermudas and beer cans balled it up with their dates. Faculty loved it sedately. Town fans were happy and aficionados rapturous.” Armstrong had been on a tour of the East Coast when Cliff Vermilya ’59, chair of the Social Committee, received a call from a booking agent telling him the legendary jazz trumpeter and singer might be available for another gig. Vermilya quickly made arrangements.
After the concert, Armstrong and the band retired to Downey House for a reception with the Social Committee, some campus people, and several members of the press, including an announcer from WESU who recorded an interview. “It was the kind of soiree that Louis Armstrong has held many times before, and he conducted the laughs and chatter with the easy air of a man who knows how to do these things,” The Middletown Press noted, recounting a snippet of conversation: “‘Do you think you’re playing as well now as you did 10 years ago?’ a man asks. ‘Better,’ Satch replies. ‘You didn’t hear me hit a bad one, did you?’”
Vermilya remembers that the concert was great and the reception was fun, and included a bit of mischief: “When we got on the bus to go to Downey, one of the secret societies at that time had gotten on the bus and put a fake alligator on the storage rack over the seats. When Velma got on the bus for the trip to Downey and saw the alligator she freaked out, screamed, and ran off the bus. She wouldn’t get back on the bus until we took the ‘beast’ off.”