Saturday, May 28, 2011

Louis Armstrong's House (Queens): 34-56 107th Street

Ok, it is not the easiest place to get to from Manhattan via public transportation, but it can be done (even on a weekend when trains run less frequently), and it is definitely worth it.  Take the 7 train to the 103rd Street stop and you'll have to walk about 5 minutes.  Unfortunately I took a round-a-bout route from the Queens Museum of Art (see my next blog posting), but even so, I thought it was a great little museum/historic landmark to visit.

Louis Armstrong was married to his fourth wife, Lucille (the first dark skinned African American dancer at the famous Cotton Club) when he purchased this, his first home in Corona, NY.    He was 43 years old and was already a jazz legend, having toured all over the world, acted in numerous movies (he was in over 30 in total), and was a millionaire, but he and Lucille chose to spend the rest of their lives in this modest little home (see photo at right).

The home is furnished much the way it was when Louis Armstrong lived there, with original wall coverings, furniture, art, appliances, etc.  They lived simply, but with particular attention to a well-appointed kitchen (see photo of kitchen with custom 6 burner stove, turquoise-enameled wood cabinetry, built in electric can opener and paper towel dispenser, and Sub-Zero refrigerator) -- Louis loved food -- and a small den where Louis listened to all types of music (opera, The Beatles, Spanish ballads, etc.) and made numerous recordings of every guest and friend that visited the Armstrongs at their home.  During the 45 minute tour of the house, visitors are treated to excerpts of these recordings so you can hear his velvety voice, his contagious laughter, and the ambient noises from his wife and two dogs (Trinket and Trumpet).

Tours of the house are given at the top of every hour during open hours ($8 for adults).  Check Louis Armstrong House Info for current details.  There are many special events planned for this summer and they are hoping to expand across the street in 2013.  The tour guide we had today was so enthusiastic and so clearly loved and admired Louis Armstrong for his musical genius but more importantly for his character, leadership, and strong position on racial equality, that by the end of the tour, one could not help but be in awe of the man (even if one is not a fan of jazz at all).  Our guide referred to Louis Armstrong not only as the Father of Jazz, but also the King of Pop (no offense to Michael Jackson) as well as a pioneer for racial equality (making an allusion to the fact that Louis shares the same birthday -- just 60 years earlier -- than President Obama).

The end of the tour ends in the garden (completed just months before Louis' death in 1971) (see above).  Louis and Lucille had purchased the lot next to their home and planted a lovely Asian-style garden.  It is a charming, restful place and I would recommend buying an Italian ice or an ear of roasted corn from a street vendor (vendors line the streets adjacent to the subway exit) and enjoying it in the garden.

All in all, it a lovely way to spend about an hour.

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