Louis Armstrong House Museum Exhibition Celebrates 20 Years of Archives, Now thru 10/6
Before there was a historic house museum, there were 72 boxes of Louis Armstrong's artifacts located at the Rosenthal Library at Queens College/CUNY in New York City. The story of how those boxes got there and grew into the worlds largest archives dedicated to a jazz musician is a true credit to both Louis and Lucille Armstrong.
Throughout his storied career, Louis Armstrong entertained countless fans around the world onstage with his show-stopping live performances. But offstage, Armstrong was dedicated to documenting the story of his life, writing autobiographical stories, recording reel-to-reel tapes, designing collages, annotating photographs and compiling scrapbooks, doing so "for posterity."
Louis Armstrong passed away in 1971 in his Corona, Queens home. What was left with his wife Lucille was a treasure trove of artifacts. "Pops always valued anything people gave him, and kept everything so far as possible," Lucille said in 1974. "He maintained a very orderly collection of autographed pictures, letters, cards, gold records and other awards-all the things he valued. I have them in the house in Corona."
Lucille Armstrong passed away in 1983 and, in her will, left the contents of Louis's collection to the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, who in turn, chose Queens College to administer it. Archivist and current Louis Armstrong House Museum Executive Director Michael Cogswell was hired in 1991 and was greeted on his first day by all 72 boxes of artifacts to preserve, arrange and catalog - and so it began.
Three years later, on May 24, 1994, jazz legend Lionel Hampton cut a ribbon and the Louis Armstrong Archives was officially open. On opening day, the Armstrong Archives housed only the Louis Armstrong Collection-everything found in Louis and Lucille's home in Corona-but since then, it has strategically grown to include a total of eight research collections, including the monumental Jack Bradley Collection, (the world's largest private Armstrong collection) and the Gösta Hägglöf Collection (the biggest European assemblage of Armstrong-related artifacts). The Armstrong Archives is now the world's largest publicly held archives for any jazz musician.
In 2003, the Armstrong's home, perfectly preserved, opened to the public as the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The Museum features regular exhibitions of materials drawn from the Armstrong Archives.
In the course of these 20 years, the Louis Armstrong Archives has played a central role in a reappraisal of Armstrong's importance, with dozens of biographies and documentaries making heavy use of the Archives' holdings. More than a thousand researches have logged in countless hours of research with the collections.
To celebrate the significance of the Louis Armstrong Archives, the Louis Armstrong House Museum debuts the new exhibit: 20 Years of the Louis Armstrong Archives. The exhibit features a selection of one-of-a-kind mementos from the different research collections many of which are on public display for the first time. "This exhibit is to be enjoyed by Armstrong fans 'for posterity,' just as Louis Armstrong intended," noted Michael Cogswell. The exhibit, curated by Louis Armstrong House Museum's Archivist Ricky Riccardi, runs from May 28 through October 6, 2014 and is free with museum admission.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum is located at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, New York. The museum is open Tuesday - Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday/Sunday from 12:00 noon - 5:00 pm. Travel directions and more can be found at LouisArmstrongHouse.org or by calling the museum at 718.478.8274.
Photo by Jack Bradley.