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Last week a new attraction that Travel + Leisure magazine referred to as “one of New York City’s Best Under-the-Radar Museums” opened in Queens. Located across the street from the Louis Armstrong House Museum in the town of Corona, not far from LaGuardia Airport, a related visitor’s center now stands.
Armstrong is forever identified with New Orleans because he was born here in 1901. He developed his talent in New Orleans but he found his muse in New York City. In 1943, he and his wife Lucille, who had once been a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club, moved to Queens into a fine home that Lucille had bought. Louis died in 1971; Lucille departed in 1983. Her late husband was referred to as “America’s first Black music icon.” His fame was such that Lucille willed the home to the City of New York.
Lucille is credited for having a school in the area named after her husband and for having had the home preserved as a museum and declared as a National Historic Landmark.
In the new facility there is a muliti-media exhibit. The 60,000 piece archive is said to be the largest dedicated to jazz music.
Jason Moran, the museum’s curator, said of Armstrong, “We have Lucille and Louis’s magnificent home, and now a museum with archives, dedicated to his life. To have these things for an African American museum of such stature is rare and will be celebrated forever.”
And in all started in New Orleans.
Ironically, the past week began with the annual Essence festival in New Orleans. This year a new crew of festival organizers decided to to put an emphasis on hip-hop. Unlike jazz, hip-hop is not New Orleans’ native music but the city has given birth to two (among many) of its stars – Big Freeda and Little Wayne, both of whom performed at the festival.
Not to be overlooked, however, are contributions from Black New Orleans to other genres of popular music including rhythm and blues, which gave the world Fats Domino, Irma Thomas, Allan Toussaint, Ernie K-Doe and the Neville’s, whose repertoire has also embraced the beat of native Mardi Gras Indian chants.
Most of all, there is jazz.
No other town can fully claim the music’s origin.
May hip-hop get all the praise it deserves but may the future always be reminded of Armstrong’s "West End Blues;" Fats meeting his thrill on Blueberry Hill; K-Doe bemoaning his mother-in-law; Irma lamenting that “It’s Raining” and Toussaint’s sentiment about “Southern Nights.”
For the sake of the music, it is good that a museum dedicated to jazz will be at the home of its greatest performer and located in a world city like New York. Interestingly another borough, the Bronx, is located nearby across the East River from Queens.
That’s where hip-hop originated.
Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: All responses are subject to being published, as edited, in this article. Please include your name and location.
SOMETHING NEW: Listen to “Louisiana Insider,” a weekly podcast covering the people, places and culture of the state. LouisianaLife.com/LouisianaInsider, Apple Podcasts or Audible/Amazon Music.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.