Louis Prima: Great Talent, Great Timing

Louis Prima was a riot. And he was a riot that came came along at the perfect time. Whenever I hear this music, I think of what it must have been like to be in New York City in the 1930s, 40s and 50s.

The medley above is comprised of When Your’e Smiling, Zooma Zooma and Oh Marie. The song below, Just a Gigalo/I Ain’t Got Nobody, was a hit many years later for David Lee Roth. Another great song, Angelina – which is Prima’s mother’s name — is used at Citi Field in New York during Mets games.

There is an element of performance art in what Prima did. The funniest moment in the clip above is that while the boys are jumping around like maniacs, Keely Smith — one of Prima’s wives — stands immobile, looking disinterested and superior. Check out the look on her face a few seconds after this part of the clip begins. That, apparently, was most of what she did.

The lyric to Angelina is great:

I eat antipasta twice
Just because she is so nice, Angelina
Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria

I give up soup and minestrone
Just to be with her alone, Angelina
Angelina, the waitress at the pizzeria

A good bit of the song — the part played at Shea and now Citi — is in Italian. Even funny lyrics say something about the time during which they were written and became popular. Angelina was written in the 1940s, when there was a good deal of anti Italian sentiment, most Italians were in the northeast — I doubt there were many pizzerias in Des Moines or Phoenix — and not everyone was familiar with antipasta. This was an extremely urban and ethnic song for the time.

Here is a loving bio of Prima. Wikipedia’s profile is more objective but poorly sourced. It does have a lot of interesting and probably accurate information.

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