We know that Louis Armstrong visited Europe — once in summer 1932 (England and Scotland) and for a longer time in 1933 and 1934 (England, Scandinavia, Denmark, Holland, France).  Newspaper reports exist, as do the first airshots and the famous 1933 film footage.

But I hadn’t known that Louis and his band had paid a ceremonial visit to a famous gramophone store, Cowlings Bros in St Nicholas Street, Leicester, on Saturday, February 24, 1934, until I’d seen this autograph book up for bid on eBay.  Here is the link.

(A few words about Cowlings Bros, who sold Gilbert gramophones, here.)

Louis and Alpha, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

Louis and Alpha, courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

I find the autograph book particularly exciting because, for one thing, most of the autographs I’ve seen of Louis are later in his career, from the early Fifties on. This is the first signature I’ve seen of the woman who would become Louis’ third wife.  In 1934 she was still Alpha Smith — they would not marry until 1938 — but she signed as Alpha Armstrong and was introduced to onlookers as Mrs. Armstrong.  No surprise there, considering the mores of the time.

LOUIS and ALPHA and dog

Louis keeps up with the news:

LOUIS and ALPHA and Melody Maker

Let’s start with the unassuming autograph book itself:

LOUIS UK autograph book 1


LOUIS UK autograph page 1

Mr. and Mrs. is the name:

LOUIS UK autograph page 2

Members of the orchestra (Peter J. duConge, 1st Sax; Hy Tyree, 3rd Sax; Oliver Tines [Drummer]; Lionel Guimares, Tromb; Charles S. Johnson, 1st Trpt; Fletcher B. Allen, Tenor Saxophonist; Germain Arago [Bass]; Jack S. Hamilton, 2nd Trumpet):

LOUIS UK autograph page 3

From another perspective:

LOUIS UK autograph page 4

And another view:

LOUIS UK autograph page 5

Other signatures I do not recognize as connected to Louis:

LOUIS UK autograph page 6


LOUIS UK autograph page 7


LOUIS UK autograph page 8

Seriously amazing, and beautifully preserved for over eighty years, too.

Autograph books can’t make a sound, but there’s always the next nine minutes from the film shot on October 21, 1933, in Copenhagen:

When people ask me (rarely, I might add) what my favorite film is, I usually answer CITIZEN KANE.  But I think I might have been mistaken all these years, and the nine minutes of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Harlem Band that you’ve just seen have edged out Charles Foster Kane, the stagehands holding their noses, Rosebud, and the girl in the white dress.

“I like it, I like it.”

AND . . .

another 1933-34 UK autograph book on eBay — the link is here:

LOUIS second autograph book 27 3 34

Roy Fox, “The Whispering Cornetist” (this looks like a rubber stamp rather than a signature to me):

LOUIS second autograph book Roy Fox page 2

The middle signature is a mystery to me and the seller, but the top is actress Jeanne de Casalis (thanks to Jon Zeiderman for the catch); the bottom, singer George Baker:Louis second autograph book page 3 ID

The team of Layton and Johnstone:

LOUIS second autograph book page 4 Layton and Johnstone

Singer Louis Hylton:LOUIS second autograph book page 5 Hylton

Other signatures in this book —  not pictured but attested to by the seller — are the xylophonist Teddy Brown and singer Les Allen.  But bidding ended on December 15: the book sold for 165 pounds, roughly $250.

May your happiness increase!

2 responses to “LOUIS IN LEICESTER, ENGLAND, SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 24, 1934 . . . AND . . . !

  1. Don "Zoot" Conner

    What a stunning set by the master! Words fail me,this is a wonderful way to start the day.Thanks a million,Michael.

  2. Dan Morgenstern

    Nice find, Louis autographs from ’30s not that scarce.* Couldn’t marry Alpha until divorce from Lil became final in ’38 but was with her from late ’20s–until she absconded with Cliff Leeman (whom Louis thanked–by then relationship had soured), BTW, Denmark is part of Scandinavia, professor! Cheers, Dan *bit whole band fairly so…did you ever see that photo of Pops with all-white British band with strings? It’s in the booklet to the Ken Burns Louis CD issued in conjunction with his “Jazz”, never seen it anywhere else, or before….

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