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Concert to acknowledge 1958 racial incident against jazz legend that occurred in P.E.I.

Local historian Jim Hornby holds up a newspaper ad for Louis Armstrong’s 1958 concert in Charlottetown and a collection of the jazz legend’s music. Hornby is the organizer of an event being held next week that aims to apologize for a long, unacknowledged racial incident that occurred against the musician and his band while in P.E.I.
Local historian Jim Hornby holds up a newspaper ad for Louis Armstrong’s 1958 concert in Charlottetown and a collection of the jazz legend’s music. Hornby is the organizer of an event being held next week that aims to apologize for a long, unacknowledged racial incident that occurred against the musician and his band while in P.E.I. - Mitch MacDonald

A concert later this month is aiming to shine a light on a long, unacknowledged racist incident that occurred in P.E.I. against one of the world’s most well-known musicians.

When Louis Armstrong and His All Stars performed in Charlottetown in July 1958, they left behind about 2,000 happy fans.

However, many Islanders would likely be surprised to know the band also left the province in a conspiracy of silence after Armstrong and his band were turned away from the city’s leading hotel because of his race.

Local historian Jim Hornby, who is organizing this month’s event, said he wanted to acknowledge the incident, which has largely been ignored during the past six decades.

“It was sort of hushed up for years and years,” said Hornby. “My theory was that everybody felt it would be too embarrassing to the Island to speak up. Nobody wanted to be the one to do it.”
An evening of music and information at Beaconsfield Carriage House on the corner of West and Kent streets in Charlottetown aims to do just that.

The event, which is named “Potato Head Blues” after one of Armstrong’s greatest hits, will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 23, and will include a presentation on the incident.

Jazz will follow, performed by Peter Bevan-Baker on trumpet, Doug Millington on trombone, Marlee Saulnier on alto saxophone, Max Keenlyside on piano, Chris Martell on bass and Alan Dowling on drums.

Hornby said Armstrong and his band arrived in Charlottetown on July 24, 1958, to play that night at the sports arena on Fitzroy Street.
However, after the band checked into the Charlottetown Hotel, which was owned by CNR at the time, there was a complaint from American tourists at the hotel who didn’t want to share accommodations with “negroes.”

Armstrong’s tour manager was told they had to leave the Charlottetown Hotel.

Hornby said he hopes next week’s event also shows Armstrong’s professionalism and goodwill towards Islanders after the incident.

While a photograph showed a visibly unhappy Armstrong before he took the stage, by all accounts the audience was unaware anything was amiss.

“He wasn’t very happy, but he never shared that with the audience. He gave everything for the audience and his true spirit was revealed the following day in a story I’ll tell (at the event),” said Hornby, who will be sharing a gift Armstrong left behind for an Islander who showed the band hospitality. “I’m hoping to leave everybody on a positive note after this shockingly horrible incident. It’s kind of surprising this could happen in Charlottetown in 1958 and surprisingly nobody has really heard of it.”

The evening is sponsored by the Black Cultural Society of P.E.I., Innovation P.E.I. and the P.E.I. Community of Cultural Partnership Program and presented by Fox House.

While no admission will be charged, donations will be received to help with the production of the evening and publication of further research.

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