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Old 28 December 2006, 06:08 AM
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Icon104 Nixon carried Satchmo's stash

Comment: Satchmo And Nixon

Great story, supposedly true.

Louis Armstrong was flying back from Europe, and on the same plane was
then-Congressman Richard Nixon. Nixon was apparently a fan of Louis and
they chatted throughout the flight.

When they arrived in New York, Louis said to Nixon, listen I'm an old man
and I've got all this stuff to carry, why don't you carry my trumpet for
me and help me out?

And that is the story of how Richard Nixon carried Louis Armstrong's stash
of weed through customs at the New York airport
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  #2  
Old 30 December 2006, 02:18 AM
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Hmmm... it is in character for Armstrong, at least from the biography I read.
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  #3  
Old 31 December 2006, 01:32 AM
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There are some red flags here.

Armstrong (b. 1901) was only 12 years older than Nixon (b. 1913) and would have been 45-49 years old when Nixon was a Congressman (1946-1950). I doubt that Armstrong would have called himself an "old man".

I found this version of the story credited to trombonist Gordon "Early" Anderson who is now 66 years old:
Quote:
Armstrong, Anderson said, "was the sweetest, warmest man." But the raspy voiced trumpeter also had a mischievous side.

"In this sporting and rather profane life the stories are seldom printable," Anderson said. "But Pops smoked marijuana everyday of his life. Once, he and Richard Nixon (before becoming president) were flying from Europe in first class. I wasn't there, but it turned out Nixon was a huge fan of Louis Armstrong, and just loved meeting him.

"Anyway, Pops at the time had his stash in his trumpet case. That was always a little worrisome for him (having to take it through customs). It was time to get off the plane and Nixon said, 'Is there anything I can do to help.' He said, 'Oh, yes Richard, I'm old and this trumpet is so heavy, do you think you could carry it for me?' And, of course, Richard Nixon carried it through customs. And nobody checked anything that Richard Nixon was carrying. So Richard Nixon was Louis Armstrong's drug mule. He must have been dying laughing on the inside."
That version moves the story up to "before he was President", which would include the years during the Kennedy and Johnson (1960-1968) administrations when Nixon would have been flying as a private citizen and Armstrong (d. 1971) would have been an older man (59-67) who might call himself "old".

I don't know if the former Vice President of the United States would automatically get waved through customs without having his baggage checked. Or if the customs officials thought it was odd the the former VP had a trumpet but the trumpet player didn't.

While Anderson doesn't claim to have been there when this took place, he was a musician who knew and worked with Armstrong in this period. However, the linked version doesn't include the claim that he was there or even that he heard the story from Armstrong, himself.

However, this account credited to "Armstrong's keyboard player, Tommy Flanagan" [note: Flanagan was not Armstrong's pianist, there is no record of any sessions where the two played together], is somewhat different:

Quote:
Nixon and Satchmo

While vice-president, Nixon had a strange encounter with jazz great Louis Armstrong. Armstrong was on a "goodwill tour" for the US state department, and was waiting in the VIP Lounge of the Paris airport with his troupe of musicians. The story, as told by Armstrong's keyboard player Tommy Flanagan, is that Nixon walked into the lounge with his secret service guards, saw Armstrong, and immediately rushed up to him. Nixon effusively praised the pot-smoking jazz trumpeter, telling him he was "a national treasure... like the Statue of Liberty!"

It turned out that they were all on the same plane, going to Moscow. Nixon claimed to be Armstrong's "biggest fan," and repeatedly asked if there was anything he could do for his musical hero. Armstrong said "Yeah! Would you mind carrying these?" and handed Nixon a few pieces out of their large pile of luggage. Nixon happily agreed, never knowing that he had proudly carried the whole band's pot stash right through Russian customs.
This would date the incident as 1959, the year of Nixon's much publicized trip to Moscow where he had the "Kitchen Debate" with Khrushchev. I am unable to verify that the Vice President of the United states would have taken a commercial flight on official business to Moscow in 1959. I very much doubt that the Vice President of the United States would carry anyone's luggage through customs on an official trip, including his own. But Armstrong did not go on a goodwill tour to Russia for the State Department in 1959. There had only been trups by three jazz musicians to Russia by 1971, when Armstrong died. He was not one of them:

Quote:
Prior to this tour of September 13 through October 13, 1971, jazz had been incredibly embattled in the Soviet Union. There had only been a couple of State Department tours, one by Benny Goodman and one by Earl Hines. The Ellington tour moved through five cities with 22 concerts.
One had been planned for 1957, two years earlier, but he never went.

Quote:
In 1957 Armstrong spoke out against racial injustice in the United States in the wake of the disturbance accompanying the forced integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Although strongly criticized for his stand, he steadfastly refused to back down. He had endured a lifetime of segregation in America in spite of being lionized abroad, and he was unhappy to see young black students abused for attempting to receive an equitable education. A scheduled government-sponsored trip to Russia was canceled when he refused to depart during the unrest in Arkansas,
Another explanation for the cancelled trip

Quote:
They wanted to stop critics abroad who kept calling the United States a racist country, but Armstrong wouldn't play that game. He'd already cancelled a trip to the Soviet Union. That was when President Eisenhower refused to support desegregation in the South. "The way they are treating my people," Armstrong said, "the Government can go to hell." Later he satirized the tours in a musical called, The Real Ambassadors,
Armstrong never went to Moscow.

There are many big, obvious differences in the first two stories (which are somewhat the same) and the third (credited to someone who would have travelled with him), including what country they were entering. That alone is a huge red flag for a story involving two people as prominents as Armstrong and Nixon. Because there are so few similarities between these stories, one must question the truth of the only common part -- Nixon carried Armstrong's marijuana through customs.

BTW, Armstrong's use of marijuana was apparently legendary.
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Old 31 December 2006, 05:34 AM
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Wow, very good, Sara! I thought I was reading a post by Bonnie until I saw your name at the top.

- snopes
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  #5  
Old 31 December 2006, 01:27 PM
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Thank you. It's been a long, long time since I did one like that but that combination -- Nixon and Armstrong -- and no one else had touched it, I just had to do it.

I wanted to add after the Anderson version that it would be somewhat disengenuous for Armstrong to claim the trumpet is heavy. He held that thing, much of the time in the air, for hours during a concert. I'm sure he could carry it through customs. It was probably the lightest piece of baggage he had.

OTOH, who wouldn't have been honored to carry Louis Armstrong's trumpet anywhere he wanted you to carry it?

Last edited by Sara@home; 31 December 2006 at 01:29 PM. Reason: Clarity
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  #6  
Old 26 August 2007, 10:48 AM
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The story as I heard it came from the late Arvell Shaw, who was Armstrong's bass player for a long period (I heard them together in 1950). I believe it, because Shaw was a devout Christian, born again, and would not lie. The question of whether Armstrong would call himself an old man is an irrelevant detail; as I heard it, he claimed to have a sore shoulder and two trumpet cases. This sounds plausible-- you couldn't get a serious amount of grass or hash in a single trumpet case along with the trumpet.
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  #7  
Old 26 August 2007, 05:39 PM
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Would you tell us the story as you remember hearing it from Shaw?

Did he mention whether he was present for this incident and when it may have taken place?

-- Bonnie
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Old 26 August 2007, 06:07 PM
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It's entirely possible that Shaw really believed it but that the story was still false.
On top of everything else, Nixon was a notorious racist. I have a hard time believing he really would have been such a big fan of Armstrong's - or even if he was, he wouldn't want to run up and get all friendly with him.
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Old 26 August 2007, 06:18 PM
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Nevertheless, I'd be grateful to htbn if he would return to us and share some details of the anecdote as told him by Shaw.

-- Bonnie
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Old 26 August 2007, 06:51 PM
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As would I. All I am saying is that just because Arvell Shaw believed it does not mean it was true.
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  #11  
Old 27 August 2007, 01:44 AM
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Quote:
All I am saying is that just because Arvell Shaw believed it does not mean it was true.
Actually, what htbn says is that Shaw "would not lie," which is what happens to cause the tale to be truthful to htbn.

His assertion that Shaw "would not lie" leaves at least a couple doors open here, especially as to htbn's understanding of Shaw's experience with the tale. (Perhaps, for example, he could clarify why Shaw would have a good reason to believe the tale.)

Bonnie "minding her PPQs" Taylor
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  #12  
Old 27 August 2007, 06:11 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bonnie View Post
Actually, what htbn says is that Shaw "would not lie," which is what happens to cause the tale to be truthful to htbn.
And I never disputed that. You're looking for an argument where there just isn't one.
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  #13  
Old 03 September 2007, 06:20 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ramblin' Dave View Post
It's entirely possible that Shaw really believed it but that the story was still false.
On top of everything else, Nixon was a notorious racist. I have a hard time believing he really would have been such a big fan of Armstrong's - or even if he was, he wouldn't want to run up and get all friendly with him.
In his memoirs, he speaks fondly of the lessons on racial equality that he learned from his football coach at Whittier, "Chief" Newman; in fact, his greatest contribution to the team as a third stringer was to discretely take out one of the football team's best players (who was black) the night before the big game since the hotel they were at didn't allow blacks to eat there.

And yes, Nixon may have used some very, very racist language during his White House tapes. However, even his worst critics would have to admit that his domestic work in furthering LBJ and JFK's legacy of civil rights was at least passable - Philadelphia Plan, Title IX, minority-owned business incentives, State Advisory Committees leading to voluntary desegregation of some schools in the South come to mind.

And while much ado was made implying Nixon was an anti-Semite, saving Israel from destruction -- for which Golda Meir said Nixon was one of "the best friends of Israel the White House had ever known" -- has to count for something. Jewish radio columnist Barry Farber, who gave Nixon an "anti-Semite score" of 15-to-20 out of 100, said:

Quote:
Give me a Nixon who curses Jew boys over in Treasury but resupplies Israel...over a Franklin D. Roosevelt who professes great love for the Jews but lets all those Jewish refugees aboard the S.S. St. Louis be returned to the death camps of Europe rather than land in the U.S. even though they were close enough to see the lights of Miami Beach.
I'm not saying Nixon was a saint; but I'm also saying he was not a 'notorious racist' either.
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  #14  
Old 29 December 2009, 07:43 PM
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I note that Terry Teachout's new biography of Louis Armstrong makes no mention of Nixon whatsoever.
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  #15  
Old 29 December 2009, 09:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
I note that Terry Teachout's new biography of Louis Armstrong makes no mention of Nixon whatsoever.
This makes me think the OP story is mistaken, since Teachout, known for somewhat right of center views, would likely have mentioned links between Armstrong and Nixon. I haven't read Pops, but I did read this article which gives an idea of Teachout's take on Armstrong's place in the political spectrum:

Satchmo and the Jews by Terry Teachout

If Nixon did such a favor before being elected vice-president (Nov. 1952), it might not have been a big deal. This was the era when possession of marijuana was technically de-criminalized, but there might have been risk of prosecution due to not paying taxes or other side-issues.

If Nixon did do the favor, which I doubt, I think he would have to had known the likely reason -- a desire to get the luggage past customs unopened. So, in order for the story to have even surface plausibility, one would have to establish that, at the time, a US congressperson's luggage was always waved through by customs.

In the 1940's and early 1950's, would Nixon and Armstrong have flown to Europe, or taken a liner?

Last edited by Steve Eisenberg; 29 December 2009 at 10:06 PM.
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  #16  
Old 29 December 2009, 09:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sara@home View Post
BTW, Armstrong's use of marijuana was apparently legendary.
He called it Muggles and wrote a song about it. IIRC, marijuana was legal when it was recorded.
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