Heart of Louisiana: Louis Armstrong

Published: Jul. 31, 2017 at 9:06 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 1, 2017 at 9:56 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - He's a world-renowned musician and entertainer, and he is New Orleans' favorite son. But once he reached adulthood, Louis Armstrong left Louisiana and made his home elsewhere for the rest of his life

The unmistakable gravely voice of Louis Armstrong discussing his philosophy of life. It was a life that began in 1901 in his great grandmother's house on Jane Alley in New Orleans.The house and street were replaced in the 1960s by a new police station and city court. But it was an arrest by New Orleans police that sparked the beginning of one of the greatest musical and entertainment careers in American history.

Twelve-year-old Louis Armstrong got in trouble for firing a pistol into the air on New Year's Eve. He ended up in the colored waif's home, where he learned how to play the cornet.

"Armstrong confirmed that this was the instrument that he learned to play on," said Greg Lambousy with the Louisiana State Museum. "And he knew for sure that it was it because it had notches that he had put in the mouthpiece to help, to help his, kind of get a grip on the mouthpiece."

"The cornet and other Armstrong memorabilia are housed in the Louisiana State Museum at the Old U.S. Mint.

"We have a number of his letters," Lambousy said. "He often signed them 'red beans and ricely yours.'"

Armstrong's young career blossomed. He played jazz in local clubs and on paddlewheelers that cruised the Mississippi River.  At the age of 21, he left New Orleans for good. He played in Chicago, made movies in Hollywood and finally bought a house in Queens, N.Y. with his fourth wife, Lucille. The house, all of the original furnishings, and Armstrong's amazing collection of music, manuscripts and photographs were all donated to the pubic.

"Armstrong was very aware of his importance, and he knew that his rags-to-riches story was  interesting, he knew that people, you know, found it fascinating, so he was always about documenting his life," said Ricky Riccardi with the Louis Armstrong home.

It's as if the Armstrongs stepped out for a few minutes and invited you to explore their home. The home is literally alive with the sounds of Armstrong and his wife. They made hundreds of home-recorded reel-to-reel audio tapes that are now part of the archives.

"Talking about music, talking about racism, talking about drugs, talking about politics, telling dirty jokes. He would just let the tape recorder run," Riccardi said.

In Armstrong's favorite room, his den, you hear him telling friends about his collections of music, including Beatles records.

"He is the life of the party, he is the best joke teller, he is the friendliest, warmest human being you can imagine," Riccardi said. "He would sit on his steps and teach kids how to play the horn. Neighbors could hear Louis practicing his trumpet."

Armstrong's musicianship was genius. He was a world renowned entertainer, and in this house he was a husband and friend.

"I've always loved, and I always lived a normal life, which I appreciate very much," Armstrong says in one recording. And I've always loved everybody - still do.

You can experience the annual Satchmo Summerfest in New Orleans this weekend. Also, the Armstrong House Museum and the Louisiana State Museum have created a joint exhibition on Satchmo's life at the Old U.S. Mint in the French Quarter.

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