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HomeEntertainmentLouis Armstrong’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’: Chart Rewind, 1964

Louis Armstrong’s ‘Hello, Dolly!’: Chart Rewind, 1964

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On the Billboard Hot 100 dated May 9, 1964, Louis Armstrong ended the most dominant run at No. 1 in the chart’s history to that point.

The Beatles had ruled the Hot 100 for 14 consecutive weeks, via three singles in a row, neither feat of which had previously been achieved: Their landmark U.S. breakthrough hit “I Want To Hold Your Hand” began a seven-week reign on the Feb. 1, 1964-dated chart, followed by two weeks on top for “She Loves You” and a five-week No. 1 stay for “Can’t Buy Me Love,” through the ranking dated that May 2.

The following frame, amid The Beatles-led British Invasion, famed New Orleans-born trumpeter and vocalist Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” rose to No. 1. The title song from the hit musical was written by Jerry Herman and produced by Michael Kapp. It went on to win song of the year and best vocal performance, male at the Grammy Awards in 1965, while Armstrong’s recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.

Despite The Beatles’ onslaught of hits at the time, Armstrong’s Hot 100 conquest with “Hello, Dolly!” had momentum thanks in large part to its parent musical.

As researched in-depth by Grammy Award-winning author and Armstrong historian (and musician) Ricky Riccardi for a 2021 piece, “Hello, Dolly! Opens; Critics Toss Hats” a headline read in the Jan. 25, 1964, Billboard issue. “The critics flipped,” the story noted. “‘Don’t bother holding onto your hats,’ said Walter Kerr in The Herald Tribune, ‘because you won’t be needing them. You’d only be throwing them into the air. A musical comedy dream.’ ”

Per Riccardi, Arvell Shaw, who played bass with Armstrong, told documentarian Ken Burns, “Three or four months [after “Hello, Dolly!” was recorded], we were out on the road [in early 1964] doing one-nighters in Nebraska and Iowa, way, way out. And every night we’d hear from the audience, ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ ‘Hello, Dolly!’ The first couple of nights Louis ignored it, and it got louder … ‘Hello, Dolly!’ Louis looked at me and said, ‘What the hell is ‘Hello, Dolly!’?’ We had to get the music and learn it and put it in the concert. The first time we put it in, pandemonium broke out. We were so far out he didn’t even realize he had a big hit.”

“Hello, Dolly!” entered the Hot 100 dated Feb. 15, 1964, when “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was No. 1 and the typically copy-heavy front page of the issue and showed The Beatles behind Billboard’s logo, above three stories devoted to the band. (“U.S. Rocks & Reels From Beatles’ Invasion,” read the main headline.)

Noted Riccardi, Armstrong drew front-page Billboard ink of his own a week later in a story headlined “Broadway Lights Up Labels; Diskers Aim for Peak Year.” “The music and drama of Broadway is making solid impact on the record company scene this season,” Mike Gross wrote. “Not since the heyday of My Fair Lady have the diskers looked to Broadway product with such bullish attitudes.”

As “Hello, Dolly!” scaled the Hot 100, Armstrong further realized its impact. Riccardi sourced a story by columnist Jimmy Breslin quoting Armstrong: “People keep coming up to me about ‘Dolly’ and sayin’, ‘You’re doing all right. You’re selling records right behind The Beatles.’ I’m with The Beatles. Music is music. There’s all kinds. But it all come from the same place. It all come from old, sanctified churches. I don’t care how they change it … old, sanctified churches is the essence of it.”

By mid-April 1964, according to Riccardi, Armstrong told Newsweek of his impending Hot 100 No. 1, “I like that tune. It’s got a good feeling, it’s a good, happy one.” Of its recording, he said, “We didn’t have no arrangement or nothin’. We just scat out our parts. I played it the way I am, Satchmo’s way. The people don’t forget that old beat. They know the essence, and it’s Satchmo.”

As for the acts then occupying the Hot 100’s upper reaches, added Armstrong (whom Ed Sullivan praised in a May 15, 1964, New York Daily News column for “that famous gravel-velvet voice”), “It’s awful nice to be there among all them Beatles.”

The Beatles, meanwhile, reciprocated, Riccardi pointed out, by playing a bit of “Hello, Dolly!” – on kazoo – in a 1964 holiday message.

Chart Rewind

Billboard

Beyond its notable journey to No. 1 on the Hot 100, “Hello, Dolly!” made history for Armstrong, who at 62 became the most senior artist to lead the list. The mark stood until last December, when Brenda Lee, then 78, jingled to No. 1 with “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (although she was 13 when she recorded the carol, originally released in 1958).

Plus, by dethroning The Beatles after 14 weeks atop the Hot 100, Armstrong put a stop to the longest continuous command for an act in the chart’s history to that point, one that stood solely until 1993, when Whitney Houston tied it, via “I Will Always Love You.” Boyz II Men surpassed the mark with a 16-week No. 1 run in 1994, while The Black Eyed Peas currently hold the record: 26 consecutive weeks, thanks to “Boom Boom Pow” (12 weeks) and “I Gotta Feeling” (12) in 2009.

Following the reign of “Hello, Dolly!,” Armstrong remained prominent on Billboard’s charts. The song’s parent album of the same name crowned the Billboard 200 for six weeks beginning in June 1964, while he added two more Hot 100 entries that year.

“Hello, Dolly!” also became Armstrong’s first of five Adult Contemporary top 10s, ruling for nine weeks – with “What a Wonderful World” reaching No. 7, as well as No. 32 on the Hot 100, in 1988, the 1967 recording revived thanks to its spotlight in the box office hit Good Morning, Vietnam. In 1999, a remake of the latter song by Kenny G featuring Armstrong hit No. 22 on Adult Contemporary.

Armstrong, who died in July 1971, has additionally logged 12 top 10s on Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart. Most recently, his retrospective Gold hit No. 7 this March, with its 40-song tracklist including “Hello, Dolly!”

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