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The ribbon-cutting to open the Louis Armstrong House Museum was held on October 15, 2003. A musical celebration followed, headlined by world-famous trumpeter Jon Faddis. Other musicians and musical acts included Clark Terry, Jimmy Heath, Carrie Smith, Randy Sandke, David Ostwald’s Gully Low Jazz Band, the Harlem Blues & Jazz Band, and the Queens College Jazz Ensemble.
The House today is basically a private home, left almost exactly as it was when Lucille Armstrong lived there, and very much the way it was when Louis lived there. In 1991, Louis’s scrapbooks, manuscripts, tapes, and other such materials were taken out of closets and the attic and brought to the Queens College campus so that they could be preserved, cataloged, and made available to the public. In 2002, repairs, conservation and restoration work was performed before the Museum opened in 2003 (see the next question). But other than that, the House remains essentially unchanged.
The bulk of the work performed on the House in 2002 was repairs and conservation. There are three major changes: (1) Louis’s den has been restored to look exactly as it did during his lifetime, (2) the garage has been converted into a Welcome Center and Museum Store, and (3) the third floor—an illegal addition which Lucille added six years after Louis died—has been removed. All of the work was approved by the State Historic Preservation Office and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
The House itself is owned by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and is administered by Queens College under a long-term license agreement. After the passing of Lucille Armstrong in 1983, the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation (a private foundation which administers the Armstrong estate) gave the House to the Department of Cultural Affairs, arranged for Queens College to operate it, and gifted Armstrong’s personal collection of photos, scrapbooks, manuscripts and other materials to Queens College.
Louis had many nicknames as a child, all of which referred to the size of his mouth: “Gatemouth,” “Dippermouth,” and “Satchelmouth.” During a visit to Great Britain, Louis was met by Percy Brooks, the editor of Melody Maker magazine, who greeted him by saying, “Hello, Satchmo!” (He inadvertently contracted “Satchelmouth” into “Satchmo.”) Louis loved the new name and adopted it for his own. It provides the title to Louis’s second autobiography, is inscribed on at least two of Louis’s trumpets, and is on Louis’s stationery.
Judging from home recorded tapes now in our Museum Collections, Louis pronounced his own name as “Lewis.” On his 1964 record “Hello, Dolly,” he sings, “This is Lewis, Dolly” but in 1933 he made a record called “Laughin’ Louie.” Many broadcast announcers, fans, and acquaintances called him “Louie” and in a videotaped interview from 1983 Lucille Armstrong calls her late husband “Louie” as well. Musicians and close friends usually called him “Pops.”
Louis was married four times but his marriages never produced any children. Louis loved children! The neighbors still recall that when Louis returned from a trip, children would gather around the band bus and then help Louis carry his trumpet and suitcases into the house. Then Lucille would fix everybody a bowl of ice cream while they all watched westerns on TV.
Yes. Louis first learned to read music in the Waif’s Home at about age twelve. When he joined the Fate Marable Band as a teenager, he greatly improved his reading. (The Marable Band was the first band that Louis was in that used written arrangements.) While performing at the Vendome Theater with the Erskine Tate Orchestra in the late 1920s, he was required to sight read difficult trumpet parts. The concept of a jazz musician who improvises virtuosic solos but who cannot read music is somewhat of a myth. Most jazz musicians have a tremendous command of music theory and are skilled readers.
Louis himself believed that he was born on July 4th, 1900 and that date is still found in many jazz histories and reference books. In the mid-1980s, Armstrong expert Tad Jones discovered in the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans a baptismal certificate that indicates compellingly that Louis was actually born on August 4th, 1901. (This information was first widely reported in the book Satchmo by Gary Giddins.) At the Museum, we usually celebrate on both July 4th and August 4th.
While Louis enjoyed many different kinds of foods and dishes, he seemed to be especially fond of red beans & rice. Sometimes he even signed his letters “Red Beans & Ricely Yours!”
Louis passed away peacefully in his sleep in the early morning hours of July 6th, 1971, just two days after he had celebrated his 71st birthday (see also the question about Louis’s birthday). He had been in poor health before his death, and had taken some time off from performing. On July 5th he telephoned his manager, asking him to get the band together for a rehearsal. He passed away early the next morning. He is buried in Flushing Cemetery, 163-06 46th Avenue, Flushing, NY, (718) 359-0100. The grave is located in section 9. The cemetery is open seven days a week, 8:30 am – 4:30 pm.
Song and Lyrics
In addition to being a master performer, Louis Armstrong was a gifted composer, and he wrote more than fifty songs, many of which have become jazz standards (e.g., “Gully Low Blues,” “Potato Head Blues,” and “Swing That Music”). Louis also collaborated with other musicians, such as Joe “King” Oliver, and his second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, and in some cases it’s not always clear if the song was a collaboration or not. Sometimes Louis allowed a collaborator to take the full credit for the song, making it harder to determine who actually wrote it. Louis also recorded arrangements of other people’s songs, as well as songs written especially for him, such as “What a Wonderful World.”
Try using an online superstore, like Amazon.com. Search for Louis Armstrong records and browse through the titles; it’s possible that you may recognize the song. You can also try one of the many lyrics databases online, or do a general search on the actual lyrics themselves.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum cannot grant permission for these types of projects, as it does not hold the copyrights to any lyrics, music, or recordings. Unless your use qualifies as “fair use” under the Copyright Act of 1976, you must find out who the copyright holder is for the lyrics, music, and/or recording of the particular song you’re interested in, and contact that individual or organization. Often, but not always, the rights are held by the recording company and/or publisher that issued the song, but there may be other rights holders as well.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum cannot grant permission for these types of projects, as it does not hold the copyrights to any lyrics. Unless your use qualifies as “fair use” under the Copyright Act of 1976, you must find out who the copyright holder is for the lyrics of the particular song you’re interested in, and contact that individual or organization. Often, but not always, the rights are held by the publisher that issued the song, but there may be other rights holders as well.
Museum Collections and Armstrong Memorabilia
Yes, the Online Catalog is available here. We are also currently digitizing our entire Research Collections thanks to a grant from Fund II Foundation and hope to debut a new, searchable platform in 2018.
At this time we do not provide materials from our collection to individuals for personal use.
We welcome proposals to publish photos from our collections from commercial publishers, record companies, scholarly journals, network and cable broadcasters, and all other such agencies. You can find more information about using photos here.
Yes, we gratefully accept donations of new materials, provided that they are of interest to us and that we don’t already hold them. We are particularly interested in writings of Armstrong and original artifacts that belonged to him. Please use the form on the Contact page to tell us more about the items. Donations to the Louis Armstrong House Museum are tax deductible, but the Museum is prohibited by law to appraise items that it accepts (see the previous question).