Howard Armstrong and Barbara WardAcclaimed musician Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong is renowned for a lifetime of jazz, blues, folk and country music. Armstrong was the subject of not one, but two POV films over the years, Louie Bluie (1988) by Terry Zwigoff and Sweet Old Song (2002) by Leah Mahan. Armstrong’s roots in America’s musical past, his accomplished musicianship and his sly and charming personality led the National Endowment for the Arts to honor him as a “national treasure.” Armstrong passed away at the age of 94 in 2003. He would have celebrated his 100th birthday today.

When the vibrant and dashing Howard Armstrong met Barbara Ward in 1983, he was 73, though Ward thought he was about 50. Armstrong confessed he thought Ward was 25 — she was 43. From this comic misunderstanding, the two went on to develop a loving and creative relationship that plays like one of the “sweet old songs” that pour effortlessly from Armstrong.

One of Howard's love letters to Barbara, Courtesy of Barbara Ward Armstrong

One of Howard’s many love letters to Barbara.

Barbara remembers fondly the time in 1984 when Howard wrote her a poem inspired by one of his favorite songs, “One in a Million,” by Larry Graham. “This was a 73-year-old man falling in love with a 43-year-old woman. Love really does happen at all ages!” She says he wanted to sing “One in a Million” to her at their wedding, but there wasn’t enough time. “He used to sing that song to me all the time though. It really says it all.”

So here are the lyrics to the song that said it all for Howard, meeting the love of his life at the age of 73.

Love had played its games on me so long,
I started to believe I’d never find anyone,
Doubt had tried to convince me to give in,
Said you can’t win…

But one day the sun it came a’shinin’ through,
The rain had stopped, and the skies were blue,
And oh, what a revelation, to see,
Someone was saying “I love you” to me,

A one in a million, chance of a lifetime,
And life showed compassion,
And sent to me a stroke of love called you,
A one in a million you.

I was a lonely man with empty arms to fill,
Then I found a piece of happiness to call my own.
And life is worth living, again,
For to love you, to me, is to live.

A one in a million, chance of a lifetime.
And life, showed compassion,
And sent to me, a stroke of love, called you.
A one in a million you.

A one in a million, chance of a lifetime,
And life, showed compassion,
And sent to me, a stroke of love called you…
A one in a million you, a one in a million…

Barbara plans to visit Howard’s grave in Boston on Wednesday with the band to play some songs for him. “One in a Million” will be one of the selections.

Watch Sweet Old Song on the POV website.
Available now through May 2, 2009.

Read Part III of Remembering Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong in which filmmaker Terry Zwigoff recalls the first time he encountered Louie Bluie on vinyl.

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