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Louis Prima collection

Identifier: HJA-041

Scope and Contents

The Louis Prima collection contains business records, correspondence, publicity materials, photographs, sheet music, and posters documenting the life and five-decade musical career of Louis Prima. Collection materials date from the 1920s through the 2010s and document Prima’s personal and professional activities, including the business operations of Prima Magnagroove Records, Prima Enterprises, Pretty Acres Golf Club, and Prima’s active touring and performance schedule; the collection includes correspondence and photographs with notable Prima friends, associates and collaborators, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Bob Hope, Guy Lombardo, Frank Sinatra, and Walter Winchell among others. Posters, press clippings, and promotional materials contained in the collection show the many incarnations of Prima’s bands, acts, recordings, and styles used to advertise and promote Prima’s performances and studio work. In addition to paper records, objects and artefacts from Prima's life are included, such as LPs, clothing, plaques, and dishware. The collection also contains a selection of band member Sam Butera's business and performance records from the 1960s. And photographs depict a range of personal and professional relationships, spanning the early twentieth century through the 1970s.

Additionally, significant portions of the collection document the life and career of Gia Maione Prima (1941-2013), Louis Prima’s fifth wife and frequent collaborator, and the activities of his estate which was overseen by Gia Prima from 1978 until her death in 2013.


  • 1910-2010


Conditions Governing Access

The Louis Prima collection is open to researchers with the following exception: 1) Some material in Series 5 is restricted due to condition but access copies are available, 2) born-digital and audiovisual media is unavailable until it can be securely migrated to an access format.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to portions of this collection has been transferred to Tulane University Special Collections. Tulane University can grant permission to publish for materials to which it holds the copyright. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where Tulane University Special Collections does not hold the copyright For permission to publish collections material to which TUSC holds intellectual property rights, please contact Research Services at

Biographical / Historical

Louis Leo Prima (1910-1978) was an Italian American musician, performer, and bandleader who first rose to fame during the 1930s; he was known for his showmanship, musicality, and high-energy performances. Prima's musical career spans five decades, and is notable for encompassing several musical styles, including traditional New Orleans jazz, swing, big band, rock n’ roll, and rhythm and blues.

Born on December 7, 1910 in New Orleans, Louisiana to Anthony and Angelina (Carvella) Prima, Louis Prima grew up in a musical family, first playing the violin and, later, the cornet and trumpet. The Prima’s lived in a predominantly Italian American and African American neighborhood near the French Quarter and throughout his youth, Prima was exposed to traditional New Orleans jazz and performers, including Louis Armstrong. Prima played in high school bands at both Jesuit High School and Warren Easton High School; he eventually dropped out of school to pursue a career as a professional performer. Prima performed at local venues, including the Saenger Theatre and the Shim Sham Club, and in 1934 was encouraged by bandleader Guy Lombardo to move to New York City. While in New York, Prima became a fixture on “Swing Street” (52nd Street), Manhattan’s center for jazz clubs at the time, performing with Louis Prima and his New Orleans Gang and recording songs on the Brunswick label, including the song “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing),” which became a swing music standard and was later popularized by Benny Goodman.

Prima left New York to expand his career in Los Angeles in 1936, where he began to appear in films in addition to touring and performing music. In 1936, Prima divorced his first wife, Louise Polizzi, and married the actress Alma Ross. In the late 1930s he began to transition his sound to the emerging popular big band style. After signing with the William Morris Agency in 1938, Prima toured extensively throughout the United States and was one of few white performers contracted to appear in both white and Black venues. Prima emphasized his Italian American identity throughout the 1940s, in spite of anti-Italian American sentiment heightened by the United States’ involvement in World War II, recording hit songs like “Angelina,” “Baciagaloop (Makes Love on the Stoop)”, and “Felicia No Capicia”. His marriage to Alma Ross ended in 1945 and he then married Tracelene Barrett. He met Keely Smith (neé Dorothy Keely, 1928-2017) in 1948 and hired her to replace his former singing partner, Lilly Ann Carol. Prima divorced Tracelene in 1953 and married Keely Smith later that year. In 1954 Prima and Smith began what became an extended residency at The Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, performing with Sam Butera and The Witnesses; the act performed prolifically for live audiences as well as on popular late night television programs. Their act became a popular mainstay on the Las Vegas strip throughout the 1950s. Prima performed with other notable Las Vegas acts, including Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. In addition to his active performance and recording schedule, Prima was involved in other business enterprises throughout his career, including horse racing, golf clubs, his own recording company, and other ventures.

At the first annual Grammy Awards in 1959, Prima and Smith were awarded the Grammy for Best Performance By a Vocal Group or Chorus for “That Old Black Magic.” After Prima’s divorce from Smith in 1962, he began performing with Gia Maione, who then became his fifth wife. They had two children and remained together until Prima’s death in 1978. Prima continued to perform and tour until 1975, when, following surgery, he fell into a coma from which he did not recover. Louis Prima died on August 24th, 1978 in New Orleans; he is buried in Metairie Cemetery next to his parents. He was survived by six children and his widow, Gia Maione Prima, who formed the Gia Maione Prima Foundation and continued to promote Prima’s music and legacy until her own death in 2013. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2010.


38.92 Linear Feet (59 archival containers)

Language of Materials


Metadata Rights Declarations


The Louis Prima collection is arranged into six series. Series 1 is arranged chronologically and described to the file level; Series 2 is organized into sub-series and is arranged chronologically within each subseries, it is described to the file level; Series 3 is arranged into topic groupings, including:Family, early career, group photos, performances, sports, Gia and Louis Prima together, negatives, and oversized photographs. Series 4: Sheet Music is arranged in to groups of original and published scores and songbooks; Series 5 is organized by format including papers and clippings, posters and oversized materials, and objects; Series 6 includes 13 recordings by Louis Prima on vinyl.

Series 1: Business Records and Correspondence

Subseries 1: Louis Prima business records and correspondence, 1935-1978 Subseries 2: Louis Prima discography Subseries 3: Sam Butera business records and correspondence, 1962-1969

Series 2: Personal Papers

Subseries 1: Louis and Gia Prima correspondence and records Subseries 2: Financial and legal papers, 1960-1999

Series 3: Photographs

Series 4: Sheet Music (see External Documents to access folder list for original sheet music)

Subseries 1: Original sheet music Subseries 2: Songbooks and published scores

Series 5: Posters, publicity, and ephemera (see External Documents to access folder list for papers and correspondence included in this series)

Series 6: Audiovisual materials

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Louis Prima collection was donated by the Gia Maione Prima Foundation in 2017.

Content Warning

This collection may contain language and materials that are offensive, outdated or harmful. See Tulane University Special Collections’ Statement on Harmful and Non-Inclusive Language in Archival Description for more information about our current practices and commitment to inclusive and reparative action in the archives, which includes ongoing efforts to remediate or contextualize ableist, euphemistic, homophobic, racist, sexist and other forms of oppressive language found within our finding aids and collection materials. If you have concerns about language used in this finding aid, please contact us at

Louis Prima Collection HJA.041
Cate Peebles with assistance from Claire Stephens and Ian Wright
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Tulane University Special Collections Repository

Jones Hall Room 202
6801 Freret Street
New Orleans 70118 US