The Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday tour made a stop at Symphony Hall on April 18, 1947 in a concert package called “The Birth of the Blues.” My first thought when I learned of this tour was that the two jazz icons were promoting the movie, New Orleans, released that year. Both had roles in the film but they did not star in it; Billie was a singing maid and Louis a bandleader. But this tour did not come together because of the film.

Photo of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday

Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday, 1946. Photographer unknown.

What actually happened was Armstrong was on tour with his Famous Orchestra (with Joe Garland, Big Chief Russell Moore, and Arvell Shaw), and that the film had been or was about to be made. Joe Glaser, who managed both Armstrong and Holiday, saw a way to create some buzz for the film by adding Billie to the tour.

The program book shows how this was a Louis Armstrong show first. Although Armstrong and Holiday share equal billing on the program cover, Armstrong gets nine pages of program content and Holiday one. There is no mention of the movie whatsoever. And none of Billie’s well-known songs are included in the concert. There are four songs from the film but we associate them with Armstrong anyway. These were “West End Blues,” Basin Street Blues,” “Mahogany Stomp,” and “Dippermouth Blues.” The concert program also includes other Armstrong chestnuts: “You Rascal You,” “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” and “Sleepy Time Down South.” There were 19 numbers in all. Number 11 on the concert program is “Billie Holiday.” No idea what she sang.

What’s missing from the list are the three gems written for the movie by Louis Alter and lyricist Eddie DeLange: “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” “Endie,” and “The Blues Are Brewin’.” That these tunes are not on the Symphony Hall program demonstrates that the concert was in the works before the movie tie-in.

Thanks to YouTube, we can listen to them now. “The Blues Are Brewin’” features the Louis Armstrong band with numerous heavy hitters such as Barney Bigard, Arvell Shaw, and Zutty Singleton.