Posted by: brigid benson | June 21, 2013

Postcard from: Corona, New York. At home with Louis Armstrong

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Uber cool, that’s the fantastically vibrant, densely populated neighbourhood of Corona in the borough of Queens, New York.

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The area is an extraordinary melting pot; a rush hour subway ride in tightly packed tin can carriages of the elevated subway rattling through the ‘hood looks and sounds like a United Nations assembly meeting.

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Street food and market stalls are simply awesome;  walk the main streets through clouds of rising steam and enticing aromas that pique the appetite. Marvel at fruit and vegetables precision stacked like artworks and struggle to make a choice with so many culinary style on offer.

In this extraordinary environment is the fascinating yet relatively unknown home of one of the world’s most influential jazz musicians, Louis Armstrong.

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Louis and Lucille

The home of Louis and his wife Lucille, a former Cotton Cub dancer, is a National Monument and a fabulous visit whether or not you are into jazz.

A deprived childhood and the love of his hard working single mother made shaped Louis Armstrong for life. Despite his wealth and world wide fame Louis found pleasure in simple things, especially the anchor of his friends, family and home in Corona.

The house he chose with Lucille was built for an Irish family in 1910. In the early years Louis and Lucille lived downstairs while her mum lived up top. The ungainly  red brick building may not be the prettiest, as Louis was first to acknowledge, but it was a much loved  happy retreat for the globe trotting musician also known known as ‘Satchmo’ or ‘Pops’.

When Louis returned from demanding world tours, Corona celebrated. Fellow jazz musician neighbours were invited to party in the garden. Influenced by Louis’ trips to Japan, the modest garden was planted with Japanese maples and a small pond landscaped with rocks and filled with precious koi carp. Uncle Louis gave local kids  trumpet lessons at the front door and  loved to dish out  ice cream on sweltering days.

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Home Sweet Home: Louis Armstrong’s modest front door

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Not the prettiest of houses yet it was filled with love

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Garden for parties!

While Louis was on the road with his band, Lucille ruled the roost in Corona, along with dogs Trinket and Trumpet.

The house wows with good taste, extraordinary souvenirs in the ‘international room’ and a healthy dollop of showbiz bling in the washrooms, kitchen and bedroom where Lucille had silver foil wallpaper and a snug prayer sanctuary. Every room in the house was wired for sound; Louis respected and admired musicians of different genres and different eras, driven by his appreciation of  musical talent.

Photography within the house is not permitted though I can highly recommend a visit to discover them.

The home is imbued with the style of Louis and Lucille. It’s easy to imagine the couple at dinner with celebrity friends, or Louis locked away with music and recording equipment in his cosy wood panelled den. Image

The garage where Luis kept his cadillac is now the reception and gift shop area.

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There are jazz souvenirs on sale and Swiss Kriss – a brand of laxatives used by Louis throughout his life. As an impoverished child he foraged in trash bins for waste food, to help clear his system of bugs, his mother plied him with Swiss Kriss.

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One of my favourite exhibits in the small gallery area is a pair of stylish yet comfortable leather slippers made for Louis –  in the bedroom there’s a dainty pair of Lucille’s gold pumps.

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A visit to the Armstrong house is uplifting; I left feeling charmed by the sheer talent, humility and love of a pioneering musician who rose above excruciating poverty and shameful racism in his lifetime.

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PS!

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Don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing!

The shed of the house opposite the Armstrong home made me laugh – looks like it may have been rocking during some of the fabulous Armstrong parties!

To visit The Louis Armstrong House Museum: http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/visiting/overview.htm


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