Louis Prima: A Legend’s Place

Louis Prima rose up out of New Orleans and tore through the entertainment world for nearly fifty years. Saturday, Dec. 4, saw Prima getting the attention he’s deserved from the city that he tirelessly promoted as he performed all over the world.

New Orleans Musical Legends Park is a little nook of sorts at 311 Bourbon, across from the Royal Sonesta hotel. The foundation that runs it has installed life-size bronze statues of NOLA entertainers Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Fats Domino, Ronnie Kole and Chris Owens.

After years of lobbying and fundraising, the Prima family finally saw their patriarch get his due, his own statue in the park. The unveiling ceremony was a star-studded event, with Chris Owens, Ronnie Kole and Louis’ family present. Some of Louis’ pals from the old days were there. I met his son, Louis Jr. (who performed with the NOCCA Jazz Band) and one of his daughters, Joyce Prima. I also met Paul Ferrara, who was drummer for Louis’ band The Witnesses (and of course, Sam Butera) for a time, and Joe Segreto, who was Louis’ agent. Segreto now owns Eleven 79, a classic Italian restaurant at that address on Annunciation Street. Segreto gave a good talk, giving a nod to Eddie Sapir, who he said was instrumental in founding the park.

At the height of his Las Vegas career in the 1950s, Louis performed with his wife, Keely Smith, who many people still associate with him. Segreto gave a shout-out, however, to Gia Maione Prima, Louis’ wife and performing partner from 1963 until his death in 1978. In the 1950s, Louis had purchased some land in Covington where he built a home (and restaurant and golf course) named “Pretty Acres.” He and Gia raised their two children, Louis, Jr. and Lena, for most of their childhoods at Pretty Acres. Louis, Jr. and Lena live in Las Vegas now and both have successful music careers of their own, keeping their dad’s legacy alive. There’s a detailed story about Louis and Gia and Pretty Acres here, with lots of photos from the family’s days in Covington.

Louis would have turned 100 on Dec. 7 this year. Segreto paid tribute to Louis Prima’s importance to the city, saying, “He never failed to mention New Orleans no matter where he was. He is us. He is our fun. God bless you Chief, we love you.”

Louis Jr, Joyce Prima, Chris Owens and Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.

Louis Prima, Jr. performs his dad’s classic Jump, Jive and Wail with the NOCCA Jazz Band.

2 Responses to Louis Prima: A Legend’s Place

  1. Tom Clavin on December 6, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Readers might be interested in the new book, “That Old Black Magic: Louis Prima, Keely Smith and the Golden Age of Las Vegas.”

  2. Bryan McWilliams on February 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    Louis Prima..without him, no rock and roll. I remember when I was a junior or senior at Jesuit (74 – 75) Louis came for an assembly. What a huge personality and a guy who genuinely loved life.

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