PEI

Islanders recall Louis Armstrong's troubled visit to P.E.I.

Historian Jim Hornby is presenting an apology tribute to Louis Armstrong Monday night in Charlottetown to reflect on an "ugly incident" that took place 60 years ago.

A tribute to Armstrong will take place 7 p.m. Monday at Beaconsfield Carriage House

Patrons at the Charlottetown Hotel complained about sharing accommodations with 'negroes,' P.E.I. historian Jim Hornby said. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

World-renowned jazz musician Louis Armstrong had faced racism throughout his life and career and some Islanders are speaking up about his troubled experience on P.E.I.

Armstrong played to roughly 2,000 people at the sports arena on Fitzroy Street in Charlottetown on July 24, 1958.

And, after the story about his visit to P.E.I. was published last week, several readers shared their experience that night.

"It was a hot, stifling temperature inside the Forum that night and Louis and his entourage were there and the spotlights then were right down almost two feet above the performers," Don Gallant told CBC Radio's Island Morning.

The bus driver had to come in and order takeout, which they ate on the bus.— Frank Elliott

Except those spotlights "were more like heat lamps" in the old days, he added, and Armstrong was sweating bullets on stage.

"He had that ever-ending handkerchief in his pocket, wiping the sweat. There'd be little silver beads or sweat coming out immediately, I'd say he went through a dozen or more handkerchiefs that night."

In all, Gallant said "it was quite a performance" that had many people on their feet. He said there were many people afterward that wish they had attended.

Forced to eat on the bus

However after the show, patrons at the Charlottetown Hotel complained about sharing accommodations with "negroes," P.E.I. historian Jim Hornby said.

The tribute, called "Potato Head Blues," will take place 7 p.m. on Monday at the Beaconsfield Carriage House. (Matt Rainnie/CBC)

As a result, Armstrong was forced to stay elsewhere.

Frank Elliott, who now lives in Amherst, N.S., said he was at Armstrong's show and remembers what happened afterward. He was just a boy at the time, but said the memory has stuck with him ever since.

"While eating, Louis Armstrong's bus pulled up out front and, because they were black, were not allowed in," he told CBC through Facebook.

"The bus driver had to come in and order takeout, which they ate on the bus. This memory has always stayed with me as I was 16 at the time."

'Hushed for so long'

Hornby is presenting an apology tribute to Armstrong Monday night in Charlottetown to spotlight the "ugly incident" that took place 60 years ago.

Don Gallant says 'it was quite a performance' and that many people afterward wished they had attended. (Eddie Adams/Associated Press)

"I was trying to draw attention to the event and the fact that it's been hushed for so long," Hornby said. "People knew about it, it was a well-kept secret clearly because people were embarrassed about it."

The tribute, called Potato Head Blues, will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday at the Beaconsfield Carriage House in Charlottetown where Hornby will give a presentation of his findings, including artifacts from that day in 1958 and eyewitness accounts. 

It will be followed by a jazz performance by local musicians.

More P.E.I. news

With files from Island Morning

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