Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Louis Armstrong House Museum

Yesterday we visited the Louis Armstrong House Museum in the Corona section of Queens, NYC.  We've written before about Armstrong and this trip has been on our to-do list for awhile.

Armstrong and his fourth wife Lucille purchased the house for $8,000 in 1943 just after their marriage and lived there until their deaths; Louis in 1971 and Lucille in 1983, although "lived there" may not quite be the right term for Louis who was constantly on the road playing up to 300 gigs a year. 

Corona then and now was a racially mixed middle class neighborhood with small frame houses and the Armstrong home is only a half block from heavily trafficked 37th Avenue.  The house (with the  garage converted into the museum) is modest and small.  Armstrong could have afforded a much larger home in a more exclusive area (he was making several hundred thousand a year in the 50s and 60s) but liked Corona and his neighbors, feeling very comfortable on the street and becoming friends with neighbors and having the local kids (Armstrong himself was childless) hang out in and around his home with the couple they knew as Uncle Satchmo and Aunt Lucille.  The photo at the top of this post is taken on the front steps of their home.

The home tour takes about 45 minutes and is well worth it.  The house remains as it was in the 1970s and it's definitely a trip back in time.  This is the retro kitchen which was very expensive back then (photos are not permitted on the tour so this is from a postcard):

Although the house itself is modest the Armstrongs collected art, particularly Asian, and Lucille made some very interesting choices about wallpaper; for one thing there is a lot of it.

Along with seeing the rooms you will also hear tapes of Armstrong speaking in several of the rooms (he made hundreds of hours of tapes over his life) and in his study you'll see a painting that Tony Bennett did of Louis (for more on Bennett see The Best Is Yet To Come).

Our tour guide, Tara O'Grady, was terrific - knowledgeable, enthusiastic and entertaining.   The visit and tour reinforced my existing impression that Louis Armstrong was a genuine good guy as well as a brilliant musician and you come away with the feeling he wanted you to have when he said:

"That's me and I don't want to be nobody else.  They know I'm there in the cause of happiness."
You can read more about the museum by clicking here.

It also turns out that Tara O'Grady is a talented singer performing at various venues in the New York area.  This is her website and here she is singing:

The Armstrong home is only a mile from Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, which THC had never been to so after our tour we went over to see the Mets lose to the Houston Astros 3-1.  We had a great time at the park except for this annoying guy with a giant head who kept obstructing our view!  I guess I shouldn't be so critical since you could see from the stitches that he'd had some terrible injury.

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