Louis Prima was born on December 7, 1910, in New Orleans, La. He was the son of Anthony and Angelina, who were from Sicily and Ustica, respectively. His mother believed that music was incredibly important, and made sure that all of her children played an instrument. Louis at first played the violin but became interested in jazz after hearing the music at local clubs. He picked up the cornet and started a band with his high school friends. After a slew of unsuccessful gigs and recordings, Louis released the single “The Lady in Red” in 1935. It was his first hit. Less than a year later he recorded the swing song “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which became synonymous with the genre after Benny Goodman recorded a version of the tune.
Prior to World War II, Louis attempted to find success with the big band style that was sweeping the nation. Unfortunately, it did not work well as his over-the-top style was hindered by the large orchestra. He eventually would reduce his band to 4 other musicians. During the second world war, Louis performed in theaters up and down the east coast. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt caught one of his concerts and invited Louis to the White House; the resulting photographs of Louis and President Roosevelt together only improved the singer’s popularity.
By the mid-1950s Louis began to move away from traditional swing music and towards the beats heard in rock n’ roll. He continued to record and release popular hits throughout the next two decades: “Just a Gigolo – I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Buona Sera,” “Zooma, Zooma,” “When You’re Smilin,” and “That Old Black Magic.” In 1967 Louis was approached by Walt Disney and was asked to join the cast of The Jungle Book. His voice was immortalized as King Louie, the orangutan leader of the Bandar-log, and his song “I Wan’na Be Like You” was nominated for a Grammy.
In the early 1970s, Louis continued to record music and perform in Las Vegas and New Orleans. Even though he passed away in 1978, his legacy continues. His music can still be heard on the radio, on television, and in films; introducing the next generation to the real King of Swing.