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Louis Prima Louis Prima

Best remembered for his risque Vegas act of the 1950s, Louis Prima was the ultimate showman. Loud, boisterous, and completely out front, his mix of rhythm and blues, big band music, Italian novelty tunes, and Dixieland made him one of the hottest performers of his era.

Born and raised in New Orleans, Prima studied violin as a child. He took up the trumpet at age fourteen after his brother, who was also a musician, went on tour and left behind an old instrument. Prima taught himself how to play and in the late 1920s began to perform professionally, influenced by Louis Armstrong and the rich jazz heritage of his hometown.

In 1934 Prima moved to New York at the suggestion of bandleader Guy Lombardo. At first he struggled to find work but soon organized his own band, the New Orleans Gang, for an engagement at the Famous Door. The group quickly proved popular, recording for a variety of labels over the next several years. Despite this success, though, Prima remained relatively unknown to the general public, except as composer of the song ''Swing, Swing, Swing,'' which proved a big hit for Benny Goodman in the late 1930s.

In 1939 Prima broke up the New Orleans Gang and formed his own big band. Known as the Gleeby Rhythm Orchestra, Prima's new outfit finally broke through in 1944 with ''Angelina,'' the first of several Italian novelty hits. Other popular songs written or performed by Prima during the late 1940s include ''Bell Bottom Trousers,'' ''Robin Hood,'' and the ballad ''A Sunday Kind of Love.'' Prima handled male vocals in the band. Jack Powers also sang during the mid-1940s. Female vocalist was Lily Ann Carol.

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