Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton singing at Bucknell
Photo: Special Collections/University Archives
Thanks to the efforts of Jay Citron ’58, Louis Armstrong and Velma Middleton performed at Bucknell in 1958.

When Satchmo Played Davis Gym

In the winter of 1958, Jay Citron ’58 brought the great Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong to Bucknell’s campus for a mid-week show, breaking barriers and pushing the strict social limits of the times. “I look back now, and I say, ‘Gee, I wonder what gave me the courage to put this thing together.’ I don’t know what it was, but I’m glad I did it,” he says.

1. How did Louis Armstrong end up on Bucknell’s campus?

I was president of the Interfraternity Council (IFC) and an Armstrong fan. I contacted his agent and we discussed him coming, but we couldn’t come to an agreement about the fee. I came up with the bright idea for a Thursday night show, and we worked out a deal where IFC would pay half down and then pay Louis Armstrong the balance from ticket sales. So I signed the contract and we put the program together.

2. What was the biggest challenge of managing the event?

In a way, it was like breaking new ground. At that time, everything was very structured and serious. The University had never had an event during the week, and women, especially, had a strict curfew. But I had to pay the balance of the fee to Armstrong, so I had to open as many doors as I could to get students to the show.

3. With their curfew, how were women able to attend the concert?

I knew the secretary of the Women’s Student Government Association very well, and so I talked to her. The members of the association ended up writing a letter saying that they approved a midnight curfew extension for any woman attending the concert. And they wished me luck. There’s no way those girls would have been able to go to the concert without that permission.

4. How many people attended the show?

I have an article that was published in the local paper, and it says over 1,800. Obviously those weren’t all students, but I think since curfew was lifted, the student turnout was pretty good.

5. Did you get to meet Armstrong in person?

I did, and I had to introduce him and his band members. I remember him, of course, and Edmond Hall, who played clarinet. And Velma Middleton, his co-singer, was a wonderful woman. She was very, very good.