On a gorgeous spring day, a group of Greeters saw the last home of one of America’s beloved national treasures: Louis Armstrong, a trumpeter and singer who had a profound influence on jazz and popular music.
The grandson of slaves, Armstrong was born into crushing poverty in 1901. His boyhood home in New Orleans had dirt floors, no bathroom or electricity. Music was his salvation. He rose to worldwide prominence from the 1920s through the 1960s, but he never lost the humility that came with his upbringing.
Tucked into a residential street in the family neighborhood of Corona, Queens is the Louis Armstrong House Museum, his final home, a New York City Landmark.
In typical generous fashion, Louis put the house in his wife Lucille’s name and insisted she decorate it just the way she wanted. Lucille, a dancer at The Cotton Club in Harlem, grew up in Corona. It was a modest house, although Armstrong thought it nothing less than “grand.”
In the museum’s front exhibit hall, we saw the trumpet given to Armstrong by King George of England (Queen Elizabeth’s father.) When a friend of Armstrong’s admired the instrument, Armstrong said, “Take the trumpet, it’s yours!” The friend’s widow later donated the trumpet to the museum.
Benjamin Flood, Museum Assistant, took us through the house and into Armstrong’s world. Completely out of character with the rest of the modest rooms was the tiny first floor bathroom. It was nothing less than opulent. The walls and ceilings were mirrored, with marble floors and gold-plated fixtures for the sink and bath. At the front of the second floor was Armstrong’s office and practice room – on the wall was a portrait of Armstrong painted by singer Tony Bennett.
Armstrong was close with all the neighborhood children. Sitting on the steps of his house with them, he was just “the nice man down the street who loved them and taught them music.”
The house is a living testament to Armstrong’s exquisite artistry and his loving personality. As Leonard Bernstein once said, “Every time this man puts his trumpets to his lips, he does it with his whole soul.”
Getting there is easy. By subway it’s thirty minutes from Manhattan, with a ten-minute walk to the house. For more information, call 718-478-8274 or go to www.louisarmstronghouse.org