Keely Smith and Louis Prima were one of the hottest acts in Las Vegas back in the 50’s and Sam Butera and The Witnesses were their band. They began working together in 1949. Prima and Smith married 4 years later when she was 21 and he was 43. Prima was a musician, composer and a vocalist with a gravely voice and singing style very similar to Louie Armstrong. Smith was a smooth voiced exotic looking vocalist with a poker faced demeanor that made her the perfect “straight man” for Prima’s onstage antics. Smith and Prima had several novelty hits like “Banana Split For My Baby” but they won the first ever Grammy Award for Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus for their single “Old Black Magic.” Since “Old Black Magic” isn’t exactly “crazy-ass shit,” I decided to go with “Zooma Zooma.”
Louis Prima was a pretty prominent composer I never heard of before today. He wrote “Sing Sing Sing” which was a huge hit for Benny Goodman. He worked with several other prominent band leaders and he led his own big band for many years before he moved to Vegas.
In 1967 he did the voice of the controversial King Louie for the movie “The Jungle Book.” I’m glad I got the chance to learn more about Louis Prima. It doesn’t change my opinion about the orangutan character, but it does broaden my perspective on the matter. That said, “I Want To Be Like You” is a swinging tune!
By the way, if my friend Q and I were to use the DeLorean to go back to the 1950s Las Vegas, he’d have to see Louis Prima and Keely Smith alone. I’d have to book myself a room at the Moulin Rouge since it was the only integrated hotel at the time. All the Black entertainers stayed there when they finished their shows on the strip. Apparently impromptu jam sessions were frequent and legendary at the Moulin. I don’t think I’d be feeling too oppressed if Q snuck a video camera in to bootleg the Smith and Prima show while I stayed behind to watch some legends letting their hair down!