Louis Armstrong

Hello, Dolly!

Composed by Jerry Herman

Song Review by

The 1964 Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! was based on Thornton Wilder's 1955 play The Matchmaker, which, in turn, had been based on earlier sources. It told the story of a turn-of-the-century widow matchmaker in New York who ends up matching herself to one of her clients. The score was written by 30-year-old Jerry Herman; it was his second Broadway show, following 1960's successful Milk and Honey. The setting allowed the composer to write songs with the flavor of 1900s Tin Pan Alley and a Dixieland feel. Among these was the title tune, which came at that point in the second act of the show when the main character, Dolly Levi, originally played by Carol Channing, returns to the Harmonia Gardens, an expensive New York restaurant she has not been to since the death of her husband. She greets the waiters warmly (among them, one named Louie), then they reply as a chorus.

At the end of 1963, 62-year-old Louis Armstrong remained the jazz legend he had been for most of his life, but he had been out of the limelight for some time. Jazz had veered away from popular music in the late '40s, and it had veered away from Armstrong's style of playing in the '50s. He continued to tour regularly and to record occasionally, but he appeared to be in the twilight of his career. In December 1963, at the behest of his manager, Armstrong made a demonstration recording of "Hello, Dolly!" for the song's publisher to use to promote the show. Hello, Dolly! opened on January 16, 1964, and became a major success. The same month, Kapp Records released Armstrong's publishing demo as a commercial single. With its banjo introduction and Armstrong's inimitable interpretation ("This is Louis, Dolly," he sang, using, as he always did, the formal version of his first name), and backed by the success of the show (which, of course, it also promoted), the record became a hit; by May, it was number one. Meanwhile, an original Broadway cast album of Hello, Dolly! had been recorded and released, of course, with Carol Channing and the cast singing the title song, and that album hit number one in June. Even more successful, however, was Armstrong's own Hello, Dolly! LP, as Kapp Records hastily put him in the studio to record a bunch of songs to fill up a 12" album and it, too, topped the charts. As a result of all this attention, "Hello, Dolly!" won the 1964 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

The success of "Hello, Dolly!" had an unintended consequence. Songwriter Mack David heard a similarity to the melody of his own composition, "Sunflower," which had been a chart hit for six different artists 15 years earlier, most successfully Russ Morgan, and become the state song of Kansas -- the tunes are not exactly the same, but you can certainly sing "You're my sunflower" to the refrain of "Well, hello, Dolly." David sued for plagiarism and ended up a quarter of a million dollars richer. But Herman still made out well: Hello, Dolly! became the longest running Broadway musical in history up to its time, with a run of 2,844 performances. Carol Channing was succeeded by Ginger Rogers, Martha Raye, and Betty Grable, while Mary Martin starred in the London production (and was featured on the London cast album). Then, on November 12, 1967, an all-black cast began performing Hello, Dolly! on Broadway with Pearl Bailey in the title role and Cab Calloway as her co-star. A second cast album featuring this cast was recorded. (Eventually, even Ethel Merman turned up on Broadway in the role.) In 1969, a movie version of Hello, Dolly! was released with Barbra Streisand starring. Louis Armstrong guest starred in the film, dueting with Streisand on what had become a late-career signature song for him. Both Channing and Bailey starred in Broadway revivals in the '70s, and Channing appeared in yet another Broadway revival in the 1990s.

"Hello, Dolly!" was one of the last major pop hits to come from Broadway at a time when Broadway music and pop music were diverging. Of course, it succeeded as a novelty because it was really a throwback, a pastiche of early 20th century styles. Nevertheless, it became a standard, recorded by dozens of middle-of-the-road performers who, by the mid-'60s, were desperate for new material; it served them well, and it continues to be a well-known and popular song.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
Louis Armstrong, Vol. 5: Blueberry Hill 1961 BMG International / Milan 2:30
Hello, Dolly! 1964 Universal 2:27
What a Wonderful World 1968 Special Music 2:29
Christmas Through the Years [Laserlight] 1969 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 6:09
The Best of Louis Armstrong [1975 Vanguard] 1975 Vanguard 5:45
No Image 1980 Panton Records 6:00
Great Original Live Performances 1987 Project 3 2:30
LRC Jazz Sampler, Vol. 1 1990
Various Artists
Lester Recording Catalog / LRC Records 6:05
Great Performances 1991 Traditional Line 6:00
The Essential Satchmo 1992 Music Club Records
All-Time Greatest Hits 1994 MCA 2:28
Hello Dolly (& Other Hits) 1994 Drive (import) 2:33
Millenium Anthology 1994 Millenium Music 5:45
Swingin' Hits 1994 Vanguard 5:57
Louis Armstrong's Greatest Hits Live 1995 Brunswick 2:52
Vintage Collectibles, Vol. 11: 1956-1969 1995
Various Artists
Universal Special Products 2:24
Hello Dolly [Prime Cuts] 1995 Prime Kuts/st. Clair / Prime Cuts 2:33
Roots of Jazz 1995
Various Artists
St. Clair / Boxsets 2:30
Historic 1995 Black Label (jazz & gospel)
No Image 1995 Excelsior Recordings
Those Wonderful Years, Vol. 22: It Must Be Him 1996
Various Artists
JCI Associated Labels 2:25
Louis Armstrong [Allegiance] 1996 Allegiance Records 4:05
Jazz Big Names, Vol. 1 1996
Various Artists
Musidisc 5:45
Singin' n' Playin' 1996 Laserlight 6:06
Double Gold Hits, Vol. 3 1996
Various Artists
Public Music
Incomparable [Laserlight 3 Disc] 1996 Delta Distribution 6:06
Sixties Generation: 1964 1997
Various Artists
St. Clair / Sixties Generation 2:34
Revue Collection 1997 Revue Collection 2:31
Top Singles of the 60's 1998
Various Artists
Universal Special Products 2:24
The Very Best of Louis Armstrong [MCA] 1998 MCA / Universal 2:26
Gold Collection [Retro] 1998 Retro Records 5:56
Hollywood Collection [Entertainers] 1998
Various Artists
Entertainers 2:31
The Best of Louis Armstrong 1998 Vanguard 5:46
Louis Armstrong [Sound Dimesion] 1999 Sound Dimension
20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Louis Armstrong 1999 Geffen / MCA 2:27
Forever Gold 1999 St. Clair 2:32
The Ultimate Grammy Box: From the Recording Academy's Collection 1999
Various Artists
Sony Music Distribution 2:26
Oh Didn't He Ramble 1999 Universal Special Products 2:27
No Image 1999
Various Artists
Heartland Productions, Inc. 2:24
Jazz Singers, Vol. 2 [Delta] 2000
Various Artists
Delta Distribution 6:05
Louis Armstrong Sings: Back Through the Years (A Centennial Celebration) 2000 MCA 2:27
Sixties Generation: 1964-1965 2000
Various Artists
Boxsets 2:34
100 Years of Cinema: 40 Classic Performances 2000
Various Artists
Gold Collection (England) 3:36
Classic Rock: Hits of 1964 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:30
The Best of Louis Armstrong [Delta] 2000 Delta Distribution 6:05
Golden Legends [Direct Source] 2000 Direct Source 2:31
Jazz Collection: On the Road/Singin' & Playin' [2000] 2000 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 6:06
Rock N' Roll 60's Flashback 2000
Various Artists
Direct Source 2:48
Louis Armstrong [Delta] 2000 Delta Distribution 2:33
The Best of Ken Burns Jazz 2000
Various Artists
Legacy / Sony Music / Verve 2:24
Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music 2000
Various Artists
Legacy / Columbia/Legacy 2:24
No Image 2000
Various Artists
BMG Special Products 2:26
Hello Dolly/What a Wonderful World 2001 Universal Distribution
Forever Gold: Great Jazz Masters 2001
Various Artists
St. Clair 2:30
What a Wonderful World [Intercontinental] 2001 CD Double Play/IRC / Intercontinental Records 2:31
Jazz in Paris: The Best Live Concert, Vol. 1 2001 Verve 5:49
Viva Las Vegas [Universal International] 2002
Various Artists
Universal Music TV 2:23
Satchmo Live 2002 Park South Records / Town Sound 2:30
The Very Best of Louis Armstrong [Universal] 2002 Crimson Productions 2:25
No Image 2002 Laserlight / Delta Distribution 2:31
Ken Burns Jazz, Vol. 1 2002
Various Artists
Legacy / Columbia 2:25
Jazz Collection: Mack the Knife/Ain't Misbehavin' [#1] 2002 Delta Distribution 2:31
Jazz Collection: The Jazz Collector Edition/Louis Armstrong & His All Stars 2002 Laserlight 2:33
The Very Best of Louis Armstrong [Verve] 2003 Verve 2:27
Top Hits of the Sixties: Groovy Hits 2003
Various Artists
Collectables 2:25
The Ultimate Collection: Louis Armstrong 2003 Universal / Verve 2:27
Best of the Best 2003 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) / Brentwood Records 2:27
Louis Armstrong [Direct Source] 2003 Direct Source 2:25
Pops Goes Pop 2003 Fabulous 2:31
When You're Smiling 2004 BCI Music (Brentwood Communication)
20 Best of Louis Armstrong 2004 Madacy 2:30
Louis Armstrong [Madacy 2004] 2004 Madacy 2:28
No Image 2004 Legacy
Hello, Dolly! [Brentwood] 2005 Brentwood Records 2:29
The Best of Louis Armstrong and His All Stars [Jazz Forever] 2005 Jazz Forever 5:58
Legendary Satchmo 2006 Prestige Elite Records / Pegasus / Pegasus (Pinnacle)
The Centennial Anthology 2006 Cleopatra / Master Classics
Colour Collection 2006 Universal Distribution / UMVD 2:27
To Go: Stick It in Your Ear 2006 Verve 2:25
Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong 2006 Time/Life Music 2:27
The Complete Collection 2007 UMVD 2:25
Best of Louis Armstrong: Green Series 2008 Universal International
Classic 2009 Spectrum/MCA / Universal 2:27
Cinema Jazz Best Selection 2009
Various Artists
Universal Distribution 2:25
Pop Memories of the '60s: Hello Dolly 2009
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 2:28
Good Evening Ev'rybody 2010 Image Entertainment
Pop Memories of the 60s [Time-Life Box Set] 2011
Various Artists
Time/Life Music 2:28
No Image 2011 Universal 2:25
No Image
Various Artists
Reader's Digest Music 2:16
No Image Solitudes
No Image
Various Artists
Razor & Tie
No Image
Various Artists
blue highlight denotes editor's pick