Previously unheard performances by Louis Armstrong at the BBC in 1968, regarded by Armstrong aficionados as some of the jazz legend’s greatest work, are to finally be released.

A compilation titled Louis in London, available in July, will feature well-known numbers “The Bare Necessities,” “Mack the Knife” and “Hello, Dolly!,” the latter of which premiered last month with a video of Armstrong performing at BBC Studios. There are also five recordings that have never been released: “(Back Home Again) In Indiana,” “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” “Ole Miss, Blueberry Hill” and “What a Wonderful World.”

Tracks from the compilation were recorded live at the BBC on 2 July 1968 – weeks after Armstrong knocked Cliff Richard off the top of the UK charts with his original recording of “What a Wonderful World.”

The photo used on the album cover for the newly released Louis in London.

Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Grammy-winning author of three Armstrong biographies, has written liner notes for the compilation. He said he was asked by Verve Records to suggest a Louis Armstrong archive that could be reissued, and the BBC recording was his instant recommendation.

“For me it captures the last hurrah,” Riccardi said. “It is Armstrong singing, entertaining and doing it all at a very high level.”

By 1968, Armstrong had heart and kidney illnesses, and was slowing down his career on his doctors’ recommendation. Then suddenly, according to Riccardi, he began singing and playing trumpet once again, leading to this BBC recording taking place in London. “He plays wonderfully, he sings great – it was Armstrong at the top. Sadly only two months later he had to fully retire.

“For me it captures the last hurrah.”

“He had a couple of comebacks but died in 1971. Even though there were some heroic moments, it was a struggle for him. So to get him in the BBC Studios with this sound quality is amazing.”

Tracks from the compilation were recorded at BBC Studios on July 2, 1968.

Armstrong received a copy of the 1968 London recording at the time, and affixed a note to it reading “for the fans”. “He wanted his fans and the world to hear this recording,” Riccardi said.

Riccardi also credited a growing interest in Armstrong and his legacy for making 2024 the “perfect” time to release this compilation.

He said there has been an increased understanding of Armstrong – especially compared with the decade after Armstrong’s death, when many were critical of the musician and his perceived indifference to racial and civil rights issues. “In the last five to 10 years, if you mention some old accusations about Armstrong, you realize no one feels that way anymore. Everybody understands what he had to endure.”

Aneesa Ahmed is a U.K.-based freelance journalist and a 2002/2003 recipient of the Scott Trust Bursary