The Photo: The Secret 9 wraps up (for now)

Here we return, one last time, to the Secret 9, the great Louis Armstrong’s semi-pro baseball team in early-1930s New Orleans. More specifically, we dive into the iconic photo of the club with their famous benefactor taken during Satchmo’s triumphant 1931 homecoming to the Crescent City.

My previous posts about the club and the picture are here, here, here and here; they can fill you in on the purpose for this study of the Secret 9, how the investigation began and the life of one of the players on the team, Eddie “Kid” Brown. In addition, here’s a post I did about Villard Paddio, the photographer who snapped the photo and who later vanished after leading from a river ferry.

In addition, I’ve also had articles about the Secret 9 and the iconic image published in other media outlets here and here.

This new post represents the final installment of my Secret 9 series, and we pick things up with the photo itself — specifically, the various versions of it out there, and how the photo might have come about. With the publication of this article, my series wraps up, but I encourage anyone who has information about the Secret 9, or if you have any questions or leads, and their portrait to email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com.

Alrighty, let’s dive into the examination of the photo itself that concludes with a pretty awesome revelation. I want to describe the process I and some compatriots used to scrutinize these versions, and how collaboration is very often both the key to discovery and breakthrough, as well as one of the main elements in what makes such research so fun.

A very important note before we start digging: I and others who enjoined this effort were waist deep into the investigation, which both provided key answers as well as raised intriguing new questions and lines of inquiry on a seemingly daily basis. It became a down-the-rabbit-hole situation, and then the COVID-19 crisis hit, which created a significant hurdle blocking our research because we haven’t been able to view any of the photo copies and prints we’ve found, or those we’d heard about.

Between those two factors — getting lost within the thicket of information and the inability to do in-person research — I decided to go forward and publish what we did have, along with the many mysteries still to unravel and trails of history to explore. So this is by now means a completed work, for which I greatly apologize!

With that said, let’s go! …

Last year, as I was bearing down on my research about the Secret 9 photo, I realized that several prints or copies of the photo exist. There’s the one that has been the most disseminated and viewed, pictured below:

Photo courtesy of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University

This is the version that’s held by the Historic New Orleans Collection, as well as the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University and the New Orleans Jazz Museum collection (with minor changes in visbility and legibility in each copy). It’s also the one used by the International House Hotel, employees of which recruited my last year to research the Secret 9 photo and identify the players in the photo.

You can hopefully see the greeting and signature in the lower left-hand corner:

“My Pal Lee, Best Wishes From Little Joe Lindsey.”

Joe Lindsey (sometimes spelled Lindsay) was a member of Louis Armstrong’s band and a member of what would today be called the entourage around Satchmo. Lindsey famously took part in the aforementioned goof-around skit held before the Aug. 23, 1931, game between the Secret 9 and the Melpomene White Sox, another local semi-pro club. that was attended by Armstrong on his lengthy trip home at the height of his early fame. (The White Sox won, 6-1.)

I’m not really sure who “Lee” is in Lindsey’s signature. Perhaps Lee Blair, a guitarist and banjoist who played with Louis and his orchestra in the mid- to late-1930s? Or Lee Collins, a trumpeter from New Orleans who, like Armstrong and Armstrong’s mentor King Oliver, moved to Chicago in the 1920s and played with a slew of early jazz greats?

However, I got those possible identifications by doing just heavy Googling, so they’re guesses at best, and several archives and historians cautioned against making any unsubstantiated leaps when identifying people. I included my speculation partially to introduce readers to such influential and important artists as Oliver, Collins and Blair.

Joe Lindsey is  pictured in the Secret 9 photo, back row, the first person to the right of the players. He’s wearing a round hat with a dark hatband.

Also note in this version that the bottom right-hand corner is torn off. That will be significant because …

A second version of this photo popped up when the folks at the IHH and I met with Eddie Brown Jr. and Marcus Brown, the son and grandson, respectively, of Eddie “Kid” Brown Sr., whom the Brown offspring had identified as the third player from the left in the back row.

That’s right, we ID’ed one of the guys in the iconic Secret 9 photo. And I previously wrote blog posts about “Kid” Brown here and here.

When the IHH holks (Sean Cummings and Stephanie Wellman) met with Eddie Jr. and Marcus roughly a year ago, the Brown’s brought their copy of the photo, shown below, in which Eddie Brown Sr. is circled:

Photo courtesy of the family of Eddie Brown

Being the supremely eagle-eyed, observant reporter I am (hopefully you picked up the sarcasm in that statement), I didn’t even really pay attention to the scribbling below the team in this, the Brown version. 

I didn’t examine that writing in detail — or, I’m ashamed to say, I didn’t even realize it was different than the writing in the HNOC/Hogan version — until I scrutinized it with my girlfriend and Tulane archivist Lori Schexnayder several months after meeting and talking with the Browns. Lori is really good at her job, as this tale will show as it unfolds. It was her diligence and eye for detail as an archivist that provided a major impetus for the development of this blog post.

But she and I did see that there were significant differences in the two versions, aside from the semi-circle around Eddie Kid Brown in the Brown family version.

The most significant variation, of course, is the handwriting in the bottom left-hand corner. While the Hogan/HNOC version has a fairly simple signature by Joe Lindsey, the Brown copy has a whole bunch of text scribbled on it, including some that appears crossed-out and/or overwritten at least once.

The one name you can clearly make out in the scribbling is Mr. Joe Glaser. Joe Glaser by himself is at least one book’s worth of material, because the guy was, to say the least, quite a character. He was a music agent extraordinaire, first partnering in business with Satchmo circa 1935, and eventually representing artists as varied as Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Barbra Streisand and even T. Rex. By many accounts, he also served as a surrogate father for many of the musicians with whom he did business, especially Louis Armstrong, whom he met when Satchmo was at the peak of his fame in the Windy City.

But Glaser, apparently, for all the financial, promotional and emotional support he gave artists, he was also a very complex character, with a long criminal rap sheet and intimate connections to the mob, including none other than Al Capone himself. There also seems to be some question as to whether, and how much, Glaser ingratiated Louis himself with and/or protected him from the mob.

Louis with Joe Glaser

Also up for debate is the impact Glaser had on Satchmo’s music, artistry and image. The manager helped bring Louis to a mainstream, and a global, audience, turning Armstrong into arguably the most well known, beloved musician of the 20th century — and bringing him the type of wealth Satchmo only dreamed of in his New Orleans youth at the Colored Waif’s Home.

But, of course, Glaser also got very rich off Armstrong’s fame, too, and some historians believe the promoter exploited Louis and forced the cornetist into a grueling, exhausting performance and touring schedule. Glaser also reportedly steered Louis toward more popular music, such as Broadway tunes and pop standards that focused more on Armstrong’s singing and less on his cornet wizardry. As that happened, Louis was accused by many peers, especially newer, more cutting-edge jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie, as a sell-out, at best, or as an Uncle Tom, at worst.

Then there was Glaser’s ties to the mob. From what I’ve read, in the first few decades of its existence, jazz quickly became intertwined with organized, with the two settling into a sketchy symbiosis, as the Jazz Age and Prohibition occurred concurrently in the 1920s and contributed to each other’s rise.

But Louis loved Joe Glaser like a father, defended him and remained loyal until late in life, when Glaser passed away in 1969. Satchmo learned that his close friend and manager died without leaving Louis a percentage of Associated Booking, the company Armstrong and Glaser built into a money-making cash cow.

(Glaser also dabbled in boxing promotion, especially earlier in his career. Several articles on the sports pages of African-American newspapers mention Glaser, like the Pittsburgh Courier and Chicago Defender. For example, a February 1928 column by Courier sportswriter W. Rollo Wilson discusses a Chicago middleweight named Walcott Langford. But most famously, Glaser served as promoter/manager for heavyweight champ Sonny Liston, i.e. the guy whom Ali flattened twice in two years, as well as signed Sugar Ray Robinson, whom many pundits consider the greatest pound-for-pound boxer. Glaser inked Robinson late in the fistic legend’s career to tour the cabaret circuit as — this is true — a tap dancer/comedian, I guess a la Bill “Bojangles” Robinson in the 1950s. Robinson returned to the ring a couple years later, however. And a little more on the promoter — I know this is a lot about a relatively minor character in this post’s narrative, but this Glaser dude was pretty fascinating. In 1966, he was subpoenaed in a grand jury investigation into alleged mafia interference in the fight game.)

But Glaser’s name on this Secret 9 print raises a quandary — if Louis didn’t connect formally with the promoter until 1935, as many historical accounts show, how could Glaser’s name be found on a print of a photo that was taken in 1931, before Glaser and Satchmo forged their relationship? And how did this copy get into the possession of the Brown family? This print appears to have been repurposed several times, so maybe Glaser wasn’t the original recipient and thus, in fact, wasn’t given the copy until later in the ’30s.

But while interesting and curious, the deciphering of the rest of the handwriting on the Brown edition, at least for that time being, wasn’t as significant to the process of researching this post as what Lori and I saw in the very bottom-right corner when we examined it: “V. Paddio, N.O.L.A.”

Villard Paddio (from the archives of the Louisiana Weekly)

Once Lori and I pieced together that it meant Villard Paddio, a highly-regarded, influential photographer in the local black community for several decades and the subject of my previous post, we mentioned what we’d found to Lynn Abbott, long-time employee at the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane who, like Lori, is really good at his job. He’s also just a pretty cool dude in his own right.

Turns out Lynn had never seen this (the Brown) version before, but as soon as he saw that Villard Paddio took it, he filled us in further about how important Paddio was to New Orleans black history, and how important Paddio was to Louis Armstrong himself, making the fact that Paddio took this photo very natural, sort of an “of course!” thing.

Until Lori and I examined the Brown copy, I didn’t know who snapped the picture — indeed, I had no idea who Villard Paddio was. That discovery led to the research about Paddio himself included in this post. Lori and I were significantly helped in this process by Lynn, not just filling us in on Paddio, but also helping us parse the names, identities and importance of every person included in the two separate signatures on the versions.

Lynn noticed, as did Lori and I, that the Brown copy looks like it could have been repurposed because of the different levels of writing that were signed, crossed out or erased, and overwritten by another gifter.

Lynn suggested that the first/top line in the signature might refer “to” an “Austin,” and the line below that says, “Best wishes,” followed by a third line stating that the copy is “from” someone whose name can’t be discerned.

As to who “Austin” might be, we aren’t sure. But it could be Cora “Lovie” Austin, a multi-talented singer/piano player/songwriter/bandleader in the 1920s Chicago music scene who, in addition to jamming with Satchmo and other jazz stars, provided backing for just about all the legendary “classic blues” singers like Ethel Waters, Ida Cox and Ma Rainey (my personal favorite). But again, I’ll qualify these musings like I did with “Lee” earlier in the post — these are wild guesses.

Louis with Sherman Cook and Joe Lindsey

Lynn then posits that the scrawl to the right of that states, as previously mentioned, “To Mr. Joe Glaser,” with the line below referring to “[unknown] Armstrong’s.” Lynn suggests there was possibly a third line under that that might have referred to the Secret 9 somehow.

Here’s a late-breaking comment from Lynn that I was unable to include when I first published this. In this comment, Lynn fleshes out his observations a little more:

“Here’s a late-breaking observation, RE: the inscriptions on the Kid Brown copy of the photo: compare the ‘r’s’ in ‘Mr. Glazier’ with the ‘r’s’ in ‘Armstrong’s’ just below it; and then go online and google Louis Armstrong’s autograph – not only do the ‘r’s’ look similar, but look at his ‘A’ in ‘Armstrong.’ I think you might see the same thing that you see in the ‘A’ on the Kid Brown photo. Which is to say, it may have been Armstrong himself who wrote the inscription to Glaser.”

Lynn acknowledges that his speculation s just that — speculation. But the handwriting similarities are definitely there.

Beyond that, Lynn noted that an inspection with PhotoShop could hopefully reveal more details that are currently camouflaged in the Brown copy. However, that might not be possible until the COVID-19 crisis passes and life returns (more or less) to normalcy.

Having said that, despite these key differences in the archive and Brown versions, both of them include the quasi title of the photo written, etched or in some other way emblazoned over the men, including the year and an arrow pointing to Armstrong. In addition, given who signed each copy — people very close to Armstrong himself — both are quite possibly fairly old copies that were made and handed out within a decent amount of time after the photo was taken.

Which means that both editions of the picture were two different copies of the original, and somehow over the years, the two separate copies wound their way through the world at large on different trajectories, one that ended with the Brown family, and another one that ended up in multiple archival collections. (I won’t go into how those two processes happened, because that would be traipsing a little too far afield from the topic at hand, even by my standards.)

Which begged the question: Do any original prints of this famous photo exist? I’d never come across one, and neither had anyone else I’d ever encountered or talked to. So, I thought, barring some unexpected development — say, finding a descendant of Paddio who might have one, or someone poking around in some official archives or collections of some sort — that would never happen.

Enter Lori again.

At one point last year, Lori was helping another researcher who came to Tulane who was looking for photos about Storyville, the fabled red light district in the Big Easy around the turn of the 20th century.

Her search included a dive into the Al Rose Collection at the Louisiana Research Collection; Rose was a legendary historian of early jazz, Storyville and related facets of New Orleans culture. At the time, the Rose collection didn’t have a published inventory, meaning Lori had to comb through the collection folders until she came across the Storyville photos.

While digging through the folders, one of them contained this:

Photos from the Al Rose Collection within the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane.

That’s right. A completely pristine, unblemished print of Villard Paddio’s Secret 9 photo. In just a random file. Completely unexpected. 

I cannot overstate how amazing this development was. Just the timing of the discovery of the print (as I was neck deep in the Secret 9), the complete randomness of it, and the fact that no one, to the world’s current knowledge, had seen such an unblemished print of this famous photo. Lori had no idea it was in Jones Hall, and neither did Lynn. It was just … there in the Rose collection.

The back of the photo includes a handwritten note stating it was of Louis Armstrong’s Secret 9, and identifying Joe Lindsey.

Unfortunately, while an incredible discovery in itself, this spotless photo doesn’t bring us any closer, really, to the very origin and circumstances of the photo. More to the point, it can’t identify any of the players in the picture other than Eddie Brown.

Another question to ponder is why this item was in the Al Rose Collection, without reference or notation in the collection’s finding aid.

How did it fall into Rose’s hands, and how well did Rose know Villard Paddio and/or Louis Armstrong? Could Rose’s descendants, either familial, journalistic or artistic, help lead us closer to the source and circumstances of the iconic photo of the Secret 9 baseball team? More to the point of this series of blog posts, would it help us ID any of the players in the photo?

However, Al Rose put together and published, “New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album,” a massive, comprehensive, seminal collection of jazz photography and images, in 1967, a tome that includes a few of Villard Paddio’s works.

Now, since I can’t at the moment get into a library that might have a copy of Rose’s book (which was co-authored by Edmond “Doc” Souchon, a prominent New Orleans guitarist, writer and historical preservationist), I circled back with Lynn to see if he could help once more.

I shouldn’t have wondered — Lynn always comes through! While he didn’t have a copy of the book at his home, so he reached out to a colleague in Sweden (Sweden!) who does have the book and, yep, on page 273 of the 1967 edition, is the Secret 9 photo. Lynn relayed that the caption in the book identifies next to Louis as Sherman Cook, and then Joe Lindsey next to Cook. Crucially, Lynn said, the Rose/Souchon book doesn’t identify any of the players.

(Cook, nicknamed “Professor,” was a dancer and manager who was also a consistent member of Armstrong’s entourage as Satchmo’s valet and bodyguard. In fact, Cook took part in aforementioned comedy routine before the Secret 9’s baseball game in 1931, so it makes sense that he’d also be in the photo. “Professor,” of course, was also the nickname for one Henry Roeland Byrd, better known as pianist and singer Professor Longhair — “Fess” — who, along with Armstrong, was one of the greatest and most influential New Orleans musicians of all time. Actually, Fess and Satchmo are two of the four figures on my New Orleans musical Mount Rushmore, along with Dave Bartholomew and Mahalia Jackson. But that’s just me.)

Lynn’s friend in Sweden surmises that the Secret 9 photo was indeed taken by Paddio. Other photos in the Rose/Souchon were also taken by Paddio (per this here), but I’m not sure exactly how many. Regardless, that suggests – only suggests, not guarantees — that Rose and Paddio were at least colleagues and possibly friends.

Another observation, this one from Lynn — the Al Rose collection print includes a good deal more of the foreground of the shot than does the Brown copy, which seems to have much of that foreground cropped out, for some reason.

Lynn also suggested that, given the difference in foreground between the two versions, the Brown copy could have more writing that was originally inscribed at the very bottom but that got cropped out as part of the aforementioned re-purposing. So whose names or well wishes could have been scrawled way at the bottom, and why would the cropping have been done? Again, more intrigue.

LATE BREAKING ADDITION: Right after I’d gotten this post ready to, umm, post, I received news of yet another copy of the photo, this one from the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York City.

A few weeks ago I emailed Ricky Riccardi, the director of research collections at the Armstrong House to see if that museum by any chance had a unique copy of the photo.

They sure did! Below is the digital copy of a version found in Louis’ personal collection, Ricky said. It’s securely part of the Museum’s collection.

Photo courtesy Louis Armstrong House Museum

If you examine this copy, you’ll see it’s aged into a sepia-toned, dog-eared, somewhat ripped and wrinkled print, more so than the other versions previously discussed here. As a result, it’s got an old-timey warmth to it, like something you might find in a stereotypical antique shop. I really like it.

At the bottom is a personal inscription signed by Joe Lindsey to “Mr. Red Baptiste,” which is in all likelihood a misspelling of Red Batiste, a New Orleans piano player from Satchmo’s era. The inscription states the date is 1949. We’re not exactly sure who this might be; Lynn, for example, said he came across 16 people mentioned in the Hogan Collection vertical files with the last names Baptiste, Batiste or Battiste, but none of them list a first name of Red.

After some creative Googling, I came across an interesting possibility, though. At the Music Rising outreach program at Tulane, there’s a transcript/description of a recorded interview with Treme native Louis Gallaud, a well known Creole pianist.

In the interview, the writer relates Gallaud’s childhood and his education of music, both with formal tutors and people who played in local bands and in clubs. The interviewer lists a “Red Batiste” as an example of “[p]iano players who could only play in one key,” as described by Gallaud. The interview transcript notes, however, that they aren’t sure if that was the right spelling of the name.

There’s more: Ricky said that on the back of the print is a hand-written note reading, “1964 From Elise and Gilbert.” Ricky isn’t sure to whom that is referring, but he noted that the handwriting on the back isn’t Armstrong’s.

Villard Paddio’s signature is in the bottom left corner, and you can see that this print has the same white identification lettering at the top and bottom that several of the copies already discussed have.

One last note from my discussion with Riccardi: he also mentions one of the versions we discussed up above — it turns out to be a variation of the version obtained and passed along by the Browns, they family of player Eddie “Kid” Brown”! Here’s this second one owned by the Armstrong House, the variation of the Brown copy:

Photo courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum

The main differences between this one at the Browns’ copy is the absence of the half-circle halo over Kid Brown; the sharper crispness of the photo, including the guys in the portrait and the handwriting, some of which is also inked in blue; and the clear visibility of previous writing of the writing along the very bottom of the photo.

All of that — the blue ink and improved sharpness of the image — could indicate that this copy here (the second Armstrong House one) was the one used to make the copy that the Browns had, making the Brown copy at least “third generation,” i.e. a copy of a copy.

Which poses the question, were there additional copies of the Armstrong House No. 2 that were later distributed, just like the Brown copy? And finally, where did Armstrong House Numero Dos version come from?

That second question is answered at least partly by Ricky Riccardi, whose email to me stated:

“We also have this version, which Louis originally inscribed to someone with the last name ‘Austin’ … then he crossed it off and inscribed it to his manager, ‘Mr. Joe Glaser,’ but I guess because of the sloppiness, [Louis] decided to just keep it to himself.”

So there you have it! This version quite possibly came directly from Louis himself, because it’s in his handwriting! So it’s about as OG as we can get.

OK, now, before we wrap this journey up, there’s two final variables in all this, both in the form of additional copies of the picture. One is from Lynn, who points out that the version in the Hogan Jazz Archive (the “Joe Lindsey” one) has a notation that it’s a “copy from William Russell print.” That could mean that it ended up with the rest of the William Russell Collection at HNOC. Russell was, like Al Rose, a long-time New Orleans jazz historian, writer and collector. I haven’t been to the HNOC research center very much, largely because it’s in the French Quarter, which can be a pain to get to — parking is impossible or exorbitant, and I’ve admittedly been too lazy to take the streetcar. But I promise my readers and myself that I’ll go as soon as this pandemic chaos is over.

And finally, Lynn notes that another print of the Secret 9 photo turned up in the materials that were salvaged from the home of Danny Barker after the floods of Katrina receded. Lynn said it was too damaged but has yet to be examined closely, which is another task that we’ll have to get to when conditions allow it. Barker was an important musician, singer and author who helped preserve the jazz culture of New Orleans. When I think about it, this city fortunately had many such figures like Rose, Souchon, Russell and Barker who chronicled the music and history of the Big Easy.

Given all that, at this point, we might not be able to go much further in this Secret 9 series, at least until the pandemic safely recedes a little more. In addition, a reader who might have gotten this far might be confused and cross-eyed by now. Don’t worry, I am, too.

However, I, and the various people who’ve helped me on this odyssey, have thoroughly enjoyed the quest, because for us and other researchers, it’s quite simply fun to delve into historical mysteries. An emotional roller coaster for history nerds. Here’s how Lori put it:

“Researching the Secret 9 photo embodies [the essence of historical research] in that it was really exciting to sort of stumble across this new copy that had helpful information we hadn’t seen before. This doesn’t happen every day but it’s incredibly satisfying when it does. It’s also been frustrating to continue to run into dead ends.”

Questions still abound in the saga of the Secret 9 photo, from the circumstances of its original creation in 1931, to how each copy or print ended up where it did, to whom those copies might be referring, and, above all, the identities of the men in the picture.

At this point I need to note that while this series is done for now, my compatriots and I will still be collecting information — especially to more fully round out this post about the various copies of the photo — because there’s a lot of good stuff out there.

Those answers, as well as many others pertaining to the Secret 9,  are yet to be discovered, but I still believe they can be. Even with this series of posts, many answers have already been uncovered, through a group effort, and that feels pretty darn good.

On that note, the series comes to a close, and I want to extend a heartfelt “thank you” to everyone who helped me with this project, including Lori Schexnayder and Lynn Abbott at Tulane Special Collections; Sean Cummings and Stephanie Wellman at the International House Hotel; Eddie Brown Jr. and Marcus Brown, descendants of player and boxer Eddie “Kid” Brown; Ricky Riccardi at the Louis Armstrong House Museum; Chris Harter and Phillip Cunningham at the Amistad Research Center; the folks at the Historic New Orleans Collection; and journalist Manuel Torres, who worked with me as an editor on the Secret 9 article I did for the Times-Picayune.

3 thoughts on “The Photo: The Secret 9 wraps up (for now)

  1. Pingback: The San Jacinto Club in New Orleans | The Negro Leagues Up Close

  2. The man with his legs crossed next to Louis with the bat is my grandfather, Jake “Black” Diamond. I remember my father, as well as multiple people from New Orleans including my uncle, pointing him out. He had a magazine and the original photo he used to point him out to us.

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    • Thank you so much for your comment. I’m very sorry I haven’t responded until now — I haven’t been blogging much lately, unfortunately. However, I would love to speak with you sometime about your grandfather! If you’d be interested in chatting, feel free to email me at rwhirty218@yahoo.com. Thank you again!

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