(The True King of Swing)
Prima, the Italian word translated to English meaning before. Before there was a “swing” era, before there was a Las Vegas, before there was a New Orleans as we know it today, there was Louis Prima, the most underrated and forgotten performer that ever lived. His act gave us enjoyment, and it was as if he knew just what we needed.
Prima was born on December 7th, in 1910. His parents, Angelina and Antonio Prima, were poor immigrants who came over from Sicily and settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. Louis studied the violin for a few years before switching to trumpet. His brother Leon played the trumpet and Louis fell in love with it and the rest is history.
Lou left New Orleans after successes with a big band himself and headed for Vegas. His Vegas band consisting of Sam Butera on saxophone… Ok, you can find the bio of Mr. Prima anywhere on the web. The sad thing is, before swing kicked in there were a ton of big bands with no where to go. The music was mundane, all the same, that is until a man called Louie Prima hit the scene and like everything else he touched it turned to gold. He wrote a song simply called “Sing, Sing, Sing,” and it became Benny Goodman and his Orchestra’s standard and blew audiences away every performance. Prima wrote it and Goodman gets dubbed, “The King of Swing,” but Louie was truly the King.
He would marry his female singer of the fifties, Keely Smith and together they would bring Louie and the band to the forefront of the music industry. Shortly after Louis would ask Keely to be his wife and they made beautiful music together until they divorced in 1963,
Louis decides to headline at a then, new, Las Vegas at the Sahara Hotel and Casino. He was a huge part of making Vegas what it is today but is never included in the rise of the dynasty even though he was dubbed the craziest act in that town and still, today, no one even comes close. It was clearly a case of Prima enjoying what he was doing and that showed on stage.
Disney calls, the talent of Prima is needed for a picture called “The Jungle book.” He played “King Louie, the King of Swing” and the name rang true. Prima and the band had fun with the film and forty years after it is still a favorite among audiences all over the world.
Louis Prima inspired so many over the years. He wrote the signature song for swing, his New Orleans style was unsurpassed and his talent for scatting and making you smile was always his aim and he was dead on. His songs were covered by many even by rocker David Lee Roth when he covered “Just a Gigolo,” in the 80’s. Prima always left the public wanting more but lately I have been thinking about him more and more. You hear him in many films these days and for one very good reason, he is so awesome to hear.
Gia Maione, the very beautiful singer with the Prima band who also happened to moonlight as his wife, was with the icon when he passed in 1975. He slipped into a coma due to complications during surgery to remove a tumor and never recovered. She was by his side in the final hours. Buried in his home town, New Orleans, his gravestone appropriately says,” When the end comes I know, I was just a gigolo as life goes on without me.” Although life indeed goes on when we are gone lets not see a legend fall to the wayside. Let share this greatness with new generations to come.
In the near future I hope to see a change. New Orleans should pay homage for one of their own and I know they will do the right thing after so many years of amnesia. Vegas, well I guess they forget the most important thing in life and that’s roots. America works as a team and when that team forgets one of its teammates who helped them win, that is just so damn disrespectful. The people that new of Prima and all he had to offer, which was his whole heart and soul, well, they do think of him often as I do. For those who don’t know of him, they are missing out on a part of life that helps shape us as human beings. God Bless you, King Louie Prima, the true King of Swing and a one of a kind.