Louis Prima's Tomb in New Orleans
Louis is one of those New Orleans icons who goes through a resurgence every few years, and I have to confess that I just love the guy.
With a larger than life personality, he's remembered as much for his movies and his Vegas act as his music. Prima was born and raised in downtown New Orleans, working in the orchestra pit of the Saenger theater before moving onto Bourbon Street's Red Door and then on to big time after Benny Goodman had Prima write several songs for him which became hits.
Louis Prima sings in The Jungle Book
Prima believed wine, women and song made life worthwhile
In his act Louis Prima played a crazy musician,a loose cannon, and a flirt while his best known partner, Keely Smith, played the straight man, bored and slightly annoyed.
Unfortunately, that seems to have been less of an act than the reality of the situation. He partied hard, and wasn't too particular about his company- he went out to California when he realized he'd gotten in deeper with the Mafia than he'd realized. He was also caught several times in the company of women he wasn't, you know, strictly speaking, married to.
Whatever his personal issues, publicly he was always happy, always the clown, and was tapped to play the mischievous but lovable ape in "The Jungle Book."
Front view of his trumpter
A lingering end
Five wives and several fortunes won and lost later, he fell into a coma due to a brain tumor in 1975, hanging on for three years before his death.
He was buried in Greenwood Cemetery briefly before his relatively modest tomb in Lakelawn Metairie Cemetery was built. It wasn't until the 1990s that renowned sculptor Alexei Kazantsev added the Angel Gabriel atop it to welcome him home, personalizing the gravesite for the world-renown trumpeter.
Just a Gigolo
The inscription reads:
Dec. 7 1910-Aug 24, 1978
When the end comes I know they'll say, "Just a Gigolo" As life goes on without me.
Lovingly, your little family Gia Lena Ann and Louis Jr.
Gia was his last wife, and although Prima had five children only those they had together are on the inscription.
She now manages LouisPrima.com, and keeps his name alive.
Sadly, there aren't many videos out there of him performing live, but below is the song from the inscription.
Keely Smith, wife #4 performs with him. A famous singer in her own right, she walked out on both Prima and a lucrative contract in Las Vegas in 1961 after 8 years of marriage and 3 children. In her biography she states it was because of his philandering, drinking and gambling, but Prima's final wife Gia disputes the last two out of three.
"Just a Gigolo"
Louis Prima Tomb
St. Patrick's in New Orleans
Prima lives on
Prima's only son, Louis Jr, can be found performing in Vegas, playing swing music and covering his father's hits. He's developed a persona very near to his dad's of a happy go lucky musician. He learned some lessons, though: he's only been married (and divorced) once.
Around New Orleans you can hear Prima's music at any time of year, but mostly around St. Patrick's Day, when the Italians and Irish get together for several parades around the area.
The St. Pat's parade is different from Mardi Gras parades- you have floats with riders throwing out beads (and cabbages!), but before they roll over a thousand men in tuxedos march, exchanging flowers for kisses. Often it's Louis' music they choose to play as they strut their stuff, which seems only fitting, wouldn't you say?