By Jorge Fuentelsaz
New York, Jul 6 (EFE).- The house in the New York borough of Queens where jazz icon Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) lived for 28 years with wife Lucille has long been open to the public as a museum, but Thursday saw the opening of a much larger facility to accommodate a vast archive of more than 60,000 items relating to his life and work.
Located just across the street from the musician’s modest two-story home in the Corona neighborhood, the Louis Armstrong Center includes a 75-seat venue for performances, lectures, and films.
Ricky Riccardi, the center’s director of Research Collections, told EFE that Armstrong, knowing that people would write about him, devoted considerable effort to documenting his life, assembling photo albums and collages and recording interviews.
“Satchmo” was a virtuoso of both the trumpet and the cornet – as well as a great singer – and the center’s collection includes four of the instruments, several of them engraved with Armstrong’s name.
“These are the instruments that really changed the world, that changed US popular music,” Riccardi, author of two biographies of Armstrong, said while displaying one of the horns.
Armstrong’s favorite, according to Riccardi, was a trumpet made in Paris in 1952.
The center opened with an exhibit, Here To Stay, that offers a panoramic introduction to the Armstrong, who was born into a poor family in New Orleans and went on to become an international star.
“We are a tribute to an amazing icon. A trumpeter, a vocalist, a humanitarian. And we have to start with the music, it’s trumpet genius,” center Executive Director Regina Bain told EFE.
“So you can pick up the earphones and hear him speak. You can hear stories about his music, but also stories about his life. You’ll learn about his family you’ll learn about the community here in Corona, Queens, where he lived and that protected him,” she said.
An entire wall is devoted to one of Armstrong’s best-loved vocal performances, “What a Wonderful World.”
Recorded in 1967, the single reached the top of the chart in the United Kingdom in Spring 1968 but passed virtually unnoticed in the United States because the record company declined to promote it.
But after featuring in the 1987 film “Good Morning, Vietnam,” the song was reissued as a single in the US and enjoyed brisk sales.
Visitors to the Armstrong home can see some of the objects he brought back from his extensive travels during the 1950s and ’60s, including Asian and African art, a reproduction of a Venetian gondola, and a Salvador Dali portrait of Christ.
“It was then he gained the title of America’s ambassador to the world,” Adriana Carrillo, the center’s director of Guest Experience, told EFE. “Where ever he went, there was always someone who had heard his music. They knew it, the language didn’t matter. Beyond the language barrier, Louis’ music was known in every corner of the world.”