On Exhibit: Louis Armstrong at Freedomland

Posted on: Nov 6, 2012 -- Last updated on: Apr 30, 2013

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The story of the early 1960s is in many ways a story of freedom. In the United States, African-Americans were growing more vocal in their struggle for Civil Rights. A nation turned with hope to young president John F. Kennedy to lead them through the Cold War. The Berlin Wall was constructed in August 1961, splitting one of Europe’s biggest cities in half. The Vietnam War was beckoning.

Looking to escape the often volatile reports on the nightly news, Americans looked for escape in this era through sporting events, television and even in amusement parks, most notably Disneyland. After helping Disneyland open in 1955, that park’s Vice President, Cornelius Vanderbilt Wood Jr. left and began his own corporation, focusing on designing a New York version of the park. On June 19, 1960, Freedomland U.S.A., “The World’s Largest Entertainment Center,” opened in the Bronx in front of a crowd of 63,000 guests. Though the 85-acre park was larger than Disneyland, it was already in debt by its second year and would close in 1964 after just five seasons.

Beginning in 1961, Freedomland’s “Moon Bowl” (echoing the era’s “space race) became a venue for some of the top entertainment acts in America, including Chubby Checker, Tony Bennett, and Louis Armstrong, who performed there in 1961 and 1964.

The Louis Armstrong House Museum’s vast collections contain many precious artifacts and previously unseen photographs by Jack Bradley, helping “Louis Armstrong at Freedomland” to paint an intimate portrait of Armstrong on stage and off during this turbulent time in history, spreading joy to fans young and old with his integrated band of All Stars.

Curated by Ricky Riccardi

Major funding for this exhibit is made possible by the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation.

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars live onstage at Freedomland in 1961