Did you miss me, bellas? I’ve been escorting Papa and Mama Bella around town this past week, so forgive my brief absence. I got a funny e mail from a reader this week, and she said “I hate that you have a life!” LOL — I do, and sometimes it tears me away from daily posting. My parents are back home now, so it’s back to my routine and your regularly scheduled Afrobella.
When I was a wee one (like we’re talking seven, eight years old), my sister Petal got me a series of children’s books that I read obsessively. Part 8 of the series was a collection of brief biographies of famous people, and from that early age I became entranced by the life and legacy of Louis Armstrong. Talk about a fascinating, hardscrabble upbringing. Click here for a timeline of his life.
He grew up in the notorious Storyville district of New Orleans, and overcame real hardship to become the most beloved and well known jazz musician of all time. There’s always been something about his effervescent essence that made him a friend-in-my-head. His biographer calls him a genius and a jester. Louis Armstrong was known for that broad, irrepressible smile, but you know behind it there was a world of pain, depth, and experience.
The more I listen to his music, and learn about his quirky personality, the more I love him. Louis Armstrong had so many endearing wacky-uncle traits. He was a real dude with random interests. He had a weird fascination with bodily functions, and handed out packets of his favorite laxative, Swiss Kriss, at concerts — he loved this senna-based herbal laxative so much, he even reportedly signed his letters, “Swiss Krissly yours.” When he was on the road, he made mix tapes of his favorite songs. And I heart BoingBoing for linking this story — he spent his on-the-road time making detailed and intricate mix tape covers, collages of cellophane tape and photographs. An explanation, from The Paris Review — “The story goes that he did a series of collages on paper and tacked them up on the wall of his den, but Lucille, who had supervised the purchase and interior decoration of their house in Corona, Queens, objected. Armstrong decided to use his extensive library of tapes as a canvas instead, and the result is a collection of some five hundred decorated reel-to-reel boxes, one thousand collages counting front and back… The works are untitled and undated, but he was making them as early as the 1950s; in a letter from 1953 he wrote, â€œWell, you know, my hobbie (one of them anyway) is using a lot of scotch tape . . . My hobbie is to pick out the different things during what I read and piece them together and [make] a little story of my own.â€
This is one of them.
I wish these collages were available to the public in some kind of multimedia museum tour, but for now, I might have to make the trek to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College in Flushing, New York to see them.
I’ve always adored his duet of Summertime with Ella Fitzgerald, and his version of On the Sunny Side of the Street is superb. His version of When The Saints Go Marching In (in this video, with Jewel Brown singing backup) is the anthem of his hometown. Louis’ version of Go Down Moses is one of my favorite songs EVER. He put some swing on that spiritual, boy howdy. It’s so hard to choose a favorite, but it’s hard for me not to think of C’est Si Bon. Like the man says, it’s so good!
Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
PS — Are you a Louis Armstrong fan? How’s about Johnny Cash? I love them both. Click here for an amazing duet between these two musical legends. I know, right? So delightfully random. I almost didn’t believe it myself.