In 1949, jazz great Louis Armstrong returned to his hometown to reign as King Zulu. By all accounts, he considered the experience the crowning achievement of his life.
The week before, New Orleans’ most famous son had been the first African American to make it to the cover of Time magazine. He told the Time’s reporter then, “There’s a thing I’ve dreamed of all my life and I’ll be damned if it don’t look like it’s about to come true—to be King of the Zulus’ parade. After that, I’ll be ready to die.”
On parade day, the good times rolled. They say Louis ate turkey and ham sandwiches, sipped champagne, kissed some cousins, and tossed his grandmother, Josephine Armstrong, a silver coconut. He told people along the parade route, “Nothin’ like this nowhere else in this world. Man, this is my town. This is the greatest city in the whole wide world.” When the crowd begged Louis to pick up his trumpet, he said, “Come ’round tonight to the ball at the Coliseum. Man, I’ll blow my top with my horn.”
They say Louis’ float broke down at Orleans and North Prieur around 5 p.m. and the king traded his throne for the seat in a black limousine. Rumor has it that it took just ten minutes for souvenir hunters to strip the royal float down to its wheels and chassis.
In the “Mardi Gras: It’s Carnival Time In Louisiana” exhibit at the Presbytère, you can view photos of Louis as King Zulu. Learn more.
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