Some months ago in Gambit, there was an article concerning the life of Louis Prima and the celebration of the 25th anniversary of his death. I enclose a copy from The Times-Picayune of a brief mention of the anniversary. It says he was buried in Lakelawn Metairie Cemetery.
Mr. Prima was buried in Greenwood Cemetery. With help, I have finally located the Prima tomb, which is located on Myrtle. The inscription on the tomb reads "Louis Prima, 1906-1979." Is the date in error? Is my math off? Please clarify this.
I believe you have found the tomb of another Louis Prima whose birth and death dates closely coincide with those of the famed musician, but you did not find the tomb of the popular entertainer who would have been 93 this past December.
I promise you that the Louis Prima -- singer, composer, trumpeter, bandleader, film star, and son of Italian immigrant parents Angelina and Anthony -- was born on Dec. 7, 1910, and died on Aug. 24, 1978. He had undergone surgery in Los Angeles for a brain tumor in October of 1975, and he never regained consciousness. Prima was eventually moved back to New Orleans where for three years he remained in a coma.
I also guarantee that Louis Prima is buried in Metairie Cemetery in a tomb right next to his father and mother. On the gravestone are the following immortal words: "When the end comes I know they'll say just a gigolo and life goes on without me."
But not if his wife, Gia Prima, can help it. Thirty years his junior, she sang with Louis from 1962 to 1975 and has many projects in the works to keep Louis' legacy alive. She formed a music company -- Prima Music LLC -- and in October 2002, eight of Louis Prima's records previously unavailable on CD were released. There is also an official Web site -- www.louisprima.com -- that promotes his life and music.
As Gia pointed out in the Gambit interview, "Louis loved New Orleans. There wasn't a night that went by in performances that he didn't do 'Basin Street' or his New Orleans medley. He'd tell people about Mardi Gras and second line."
Since the City of New Orleans has not yet recognized him publicly, let's at least make sure we know where he's buried.
In the Jan. 27, 2004, edition of Gambit you wrote that the name of the French Minister of Marine was Louis Pontchartrain. In reading about Fort Pontchartrain (present-day Detroit), they say that his name was Jerome. Please comment.
I would be glad to comment. But first, for the benefit of the readers who did not see the copy of the marker you sent, I will cite a few lines: "The first permanent French settlement in the Detroit region was built on this site in 1701. The location was recommended by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, who wished to move the fur trade center south from Michilimackinac." (And we worry about spelling Tchoupitoulas correctly!) "Cadillac's plan was approved by Count Jerome de Pontchartrain, minister of marine, for whom the fort was named."
Here's where I can clear up your confusion. Our man in New Orleans was Louis Phelypaux, Count de Pontchartrain (1643-1727), and Jerome was his son.
Louis and Jerome were members of an exclusive group of advisors to Louis XIV. These two became important royal councilors and during the course of their careers were head of the navy, the finances, the colonies, the king's household, and the justice system. Their political alliances enabled them to weather the many crises and have long careers.
During the reign of Louis XIII, Pere Pontchartrain, as the new minister of finance, was having a difficult time raising money. He solved the problem by selling offices. He created many of these for which the rich paid handsomely, even though some of the titles were absolutely ridiculous (such as the Royal Sellers of Oysters). The king, surprised to find that anyone would be so silly as to purchase one of these offices, asked his clever minister Pontchartrain -- who replied that "every time that Your Majesty creates an office, God creates an idiot to buy it."