Weekend Rewind — Louis Armstrong’s Other Artistry

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, “Well, 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.”

This is one of them.

OMG, ADORABLE.

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.

Do you have a favorite Louis Armstrong song? Is it What a Wonderful World? Or A Kiss to Build a Dream On? How’s about Mack the Knife?

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.

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Comments

  1. What a wonderful world is such a well…wonderful song…I listen to it whenever I want to be reminded of the joy of being blessed with this thing called life. Cause when you drop the politics, race, gender, class descriptions of yourself all that remains is your humanity and your eternal spirit.

    Many people think that Louis Armstrong was a shuck and jive negro but I beg to differ…he did what his did the best way that he could at the time and ignored the rest. There’s more than one type of activism. Key word: Oprah, Sidney Poitier, Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King, Louis Armstrong and plenty others who chose to represent their gifts as transcendence.

  2. I found out about your site on clutchmagonline.com & I am so thankful. I feel like I have sister in you. You keep us informed and you are also an inspiration to me to find my voice and start a blog of my own. Thank you Queen Bella. Also, congrats on your anniversary…big ups to strong Black LOVE!

    I love Louis Armstrong and give thanks for this informative insert. My fave is Summertime with Ella. I just love that song, even when Fantasia sang it! Louis had so much passion for the music and it comes thru every note he delivers.

    One Love,
    Sahar

  3. What a Wonderful World is it for me. Every time I see or hear Johnny Cash I think about my dad who is a big Cash fan.

  4. My faves:

    Summertime (w/ Ella Fitzgerald)
    Dreamtime
    & Dream A Little Dream…

    I love wonderful world too, but EVERYONE loves that, it’s like a standard and well, it’s in my collection but there are other tracks worthy of overkill in my opinion.

    Funny story, I remember one of my cousins (eight years younger than I) giving me an Armstrong anthology for my birthday or Xmas when I was about eighteen or so. I remember being blown away by it…. I still have that CD tucked away somewhere. :D

  5. Mrs.Mckinzie says:

    I’m familiar with Louis Armstrong’s name ,but i’m not familiar with his music.I have heard What a Wonderful World,but not to much more than that.So maybe i’ll go to You Tube ,and check out some of his music.

  6. cynthia says:

    He was a great, talented artist but, if you do a little more research you will find that LA was not credited financially for his contribution to the jazz world. The house he lived and died in was very modest to say the least. He should have been a millionaire! Hell, he has an airport named after him in Louisiana. He made bad business choices and basically was ripped off by white men in the industry that took his money for their own profit.

  7. He was a very talented man..

  8. misskissy says:

    louis and i come from the same hometown, and i’m ashamed to say that new orleans didn’t do much for him while he was alive, which is why he ended up in new york.

    and i have to say, ‘what a wonderful world’ is seared into my brain for all eternity because that’s the buskers know what the tourists will pay for, but no matter how sick i get of the song, to hear him sing it is still amazing.

    and thanks so much for that louis/johnny clip! it made me cry, but it a good way!

  9. Sarah Jumel says:

    You should look up (it is in one of those HUGE Louis Armstrong books with lots of photos of him, you can see it in big college libraries) a photo of a Christmas card he sent out to his friends. In it he was wearing a Santa hat and NOTHING ELSE and he was sitting on a toilet. I think the caption was Senna Claus Wishes You a Happy Christmas.
    I wish I had copied it when I saw it. Dang it was funny

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