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date: 13 November 2019

Prima, Louis [Loui, Louie]free

  • Mike Hazeldine

(b New Orleans, Dec 7, 1911; d New Orleans, Aug 24, 1978). American trumpeter and singer, brother of Leon Prima. He studied violin from 1918. After teaching himself trumpet in 1925 he performed locally, and he remained in New Orleans until 1935 except for brief spells with Red Nichols in Cleveland (c1932) and in New York (1934), where he made a number of recordings for Brunswick. His residency at the Famous Door, New York, in 1935 was followed by long-term engagements in Chicago and Los Angeles. In the 1940s he led a big band, but in the 1950s and 1960s he again worked with small groups. He was married for a time (1952–61) to the singer Keely Smith (b Norfolk, VA, 9 March 1932; d Palm Springs, CA, December 16, 2017), and together they achieved great commercial success with recordings in a popular style. Prima also appeared in many films, including The Benny Goodman Story (1955), and undertook lengthy engagements in Las Vegas. His hoarse singing and extrovert trumpet playing were influenced by Louis Armstrong, but both his diction and his fingering technique displayed a more flashy approach. After 1940 his style became overtly commercial-ized and closer to cabaret than to jazz; except for those made for Brunswick in the 1930s, his recordings are not generally representative of his qualities as a jazz musician.

Selected recordings

(all recorded for Brunswick)

Let’s Have a Jubilee (1934, 7394)

It’s the Rhythm in Me (1934, 7471)

Dinah (1936, 7666)

Let’s Get Together and Swing (1936, 7740)

Selected films and videos

Swing it (1936)

Vitaphone Variété (1936)

Manhattan Merry-go-round [Manhattan Music Box] (1937)

Swing Cats Jamboree (1938)

New Orleans Blues (1943)


  • “Backstage with Louis Prima and Keely Smith,” DB, 26/4 (1959), 14
  • A. Shaw: The Street that Never Slept: New York’s Fabled 52nd Street (New York, 1971/R1977 as 52nd Street: the Street of Jazz)
  • C. Garrod: Louis Prima and his Orchestra (Zephyrhills, FL, 1991) [discography]
Down Beat
J. Chilton: Who's Who of Jazz: Storyville to Swing Street (London, 1970, rev. and enlarged 4/1985)