Like many touring musicians, jazz pioneer Louis Armstrong spent much of his career on the road, spending most nights at a hotel in whichever city he had just performed in. However, the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens stands as a testament to the fact that Armstrong did not spend his whole life rootless. With its first virtual exhibit, the museum shares the story of how the musician went from wandering the road to spending the last twenty-eight years of his life in Queens.
The exhibit “That’s My Home,” uses archival footage, rare photographs, and unique audio from Armstrong’s private reel-to-reel tapes to create a portrait of Armstrong’s life at 34-56 107th Street. Photos in the exhibit depict Armstrong with this wife, dancer Lucille Wilson, hanging out with neighborhood children, and socializing in the house. Scans of pages Armstrong wrote about the neighborhood convey his attachment to the place; in one such scan, the musician describes going to a local Spanish barbershop. Armstrong recounts how the barbers had shared his music with their children. “I see the warmth the foreigners give to me,” he wrote, “–the same as my soul brothers.”
Jazz enthusiasts will be especially excited by the samples of Armstrong’s warm-ups included in the exhibit. In the section entitled “Eulogizing the Chops: Louis Armstrong Warms-Up,” visitors can listen to audio of Armstrong explaining his warm-up as well as some samples of what he played. Photos also capture Armstrong playing his trumpet at the house.
The museum’s Louis Armstrong House Research Collections is the largest archive dedicate to a single jazz musician, and “That’s My Home” makes full use of this valuable resource. As the exhibit explains, Armstrong himself was an archivist. He recorded and saved reel-to-reel tapes of conversations with friends and audio letters. Armstrong also had an extensive record collection, which he used to create mix tapes. Pulling from this collection that Armstrong curated himself, “That’s My Home,” not only lets you inside the musician’s house, but reveals how he himself wanted to remember his life in Queens.