>!-- --> Let’s Boogie - National Archives Foundation

Archives Experience Newsletter - April 30, 2024

  • Let’s Boogie

April is Jazz Appreciation Month, and we want to join the celebration and tip our hats to this uniquely American art form. Born out of the South in the early 20th century, jazz has infused the musical scene with a rhythm and sound like no other. Presidents throughout the past century have been fans, including Reagan, Carter, and Clinton.

In this issue

Nat King Cole
In his own voice…
Ella Fitzgerald
The Queen sung for Kings…
Louis Armstrong
The Ambassador of Jazz…
Duke Ellington
Carrying the message of freedom…

Nat King Cole

In a 1956 interview, jazz legend Nat King Cole was asked which albums he would take with him if he were shipwrecked alone on a desert island. He replied, “I can’t [re]call the songs that I would actually take, but I would tell you the three artists I would take with me if I had to choose between, that would be Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington.” He goes on to discuss hobbies, sports, and his daughter Natalie. You can listen to this delightful interview here.

Interview with Nat King Cole
(13 minutes 24 seconds)
National Archives Identifier: 120209

Natalie Cole
National Archives Identifier: 75854349

While Nat King Cole was not an activist and remained on the periphery of the Civil Rights movement for much of his career, we found this exhibit from the court case Abernathy v. Patterson involving Martin Luther King, Jr. The advertisement calls for support of the Civil Rights movement and is signed by 100 prominent citizens, including Nat King Cole.

Petition signed by Nat King Cole
National Archives Identifier: 2641477

Ella Fitzgerald

Sometimes called “The Queen of Jazz,” Ella Fitzgerald was awarded the National Medal of Arts, an award given to individuals or groups whom the President deems deserving of special recognition “by reason of their outstanding contributions to the excellence, growth, support, and availability of the arts in the United States.” The photo below captures this momentous occasion in 1987.

Reagan presenting the medal to Ella
National Archives Identifier: 75855545

Ella Fitzgerald also performed in the East Room of the White House during the state dinner for King Juan Carlos I of Spain. You can listen to the recording of the 1981 performance below.

Ella recording of performing at white house – opens with Honeysuckle Rose
(40 minutes 53 seconds)
National Archives Identifier: 161344192

Ella’s performance in the East Room
National Archives Identifier: 75855955

Ella’s version of “Let is Snow” is also listed as #3 on the Holidays with the Bidens playlist.

National Archives Identifier: 236742416

Louis Armstrong

Known as “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong is considered one of the most influential figures in jazz. His song list spans decades, with “What a Wonderful World” being one of the most recognized songs in his collection. The song has been featured in many films and TV shows and has been adapted across musical genres. It is also one of Billboard’s top 500 songs of all time. Take a listen to reel 2 to hear Louis playing his song “Satchel Mouth Swing” on the popular Armed Forces Radio Service program GI Jive.

Louis Armstrong poster
National Archives Identifier: 6948729

Recording of GI Jive
(7 minutes 41 seconds)
National Archives Identifier: 178210630

Louis Armstrong was among nearly 24 million men aged 18–45 who registered for the draft during 1917-1918, a requirement of the new Selective Service System, although he did not serve in World War I. Armstrong’s draft card and military service record can be seen below. Notice that on the draft card, his first name is recorded incorrectly as Lewis. His date of birth was also recorded incorrectly as July 4, 1900. Armstrong was actually born on August 4, 1901.

Louis Armstrong draft card
National Archives Identifier: 596218

Military Service Record of Louis Armstrong
National Archives Identifier: 113515303

Duke Ellington

Born in Washington, D.C., Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was a jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader. On April 29, 1969, Duke Ellington was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon. In Nixon’s words, “When we think of freedom, we think of many things. But Duke Ellington is one who has carried the message of freedom to all the nations of the world through music, through understanding, understanding that reaches over all national boundaries and over all boundaries of prejudice and over all boundaries of language.”

Nixon/Ellington – Medal of Freedom

Ellington Birthday Celebration/Nixon
National Archives Identifier: 194290

On April 13, 1950, Ellington gave a concert in Paris at the Palais de Chaillot. As seen in the file from the Paris Bureau of the New York Times below, the translated text reads, “Duke Ellington gave his first concert at the Palais de Chaillot. Paris April 13,1950. It was yesterday night that the famous conductor Duke Ellington gave his first concert of jazz music, accompanied by his sound ensemble noir, at the Palais de Chaillot, with great success. The ‘Duke’ left his piano for a moment to conduct the orchestra.”

Paris NYT – first concert in Paris
National Archives Identifier: 276537834

While these are just a few of the legends, we celebrate all the jazz greats throughout history. Keep being brassy and sassy.

become a member, join the National Archives Foundation
subscribe to the newsletter