As a gigantic fan of Louis Armstrong’s early small group recordings, I heartily recommend the blog The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong. Here’s a couple of recommendations on posts to start with.
This wasn’t the first time Louis snuck away to Vocalion. On May 28, 1926, he recorded two sessions for the label, one with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra and one with the Hot Five, renamed “Lil’s Hot Shots.” On those recordings, he didn’t hide who he was in the least; he even took a vocal on “Georgia Bo-Bo”! But as the famous story goes, Louis was called into OKeh’s offices and played those recordings. When asked who was on the trumpet, Armstrong supposedly replied, “I don’t know….but I won’t do it again!”
The combination of the Mills’s hornlike voices and the mellowness of Armstrong’s tenor during this period proved quite natural and the combination would be repeated three more times in the Decca studios, as well as on numerous radio broadcasts. What’s odd about their first pairing was the choice of material: “Carry Me Back To Old Virginny” and “Darling Nelly Gray,” two songs that harkened back to the days of slavery. “Virginny” was written in 1878 by James A. Bland, a black man, and contained lines such as “There’s where this old darkie’s heart does long to go” and “There’s where I labored so hard for dear ol’ massa.” I know…yikes. The folk music period was just getting off the ground and this were clearly thought of as a folk song but having two of the most popular black acts in America cover it was pretty risky.