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Louis Armstrong’s 100th Anniversary

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The Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York City and the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans have partnered on the exhibit: Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans to tell the story of Louis Armstrong’s complex relationship with his hometown.

The exhibit will coincide with the 100th anniversary of his first professional gig at Henry Ponce’s in New Orleans in 1915.

According to Armstrong’s autobiography, the young cornetist was offered the job by his friend “Cocaine” Buddy Martin, who asked, “You play the cornet don’t you?” Armstrong responded, “Yes, I play the cornet, Buddy. But I don’t know if I am good enough to play in a regular band.” Martin assured him, “All you have to do is put on long pants at night, play the blues for the whores that hustle all night until ‘fo’ day in the morning.” That was good enough for Armstrong, who fronted a trio of cornet, piano and drums and ended up playing the blues nightly for the next six months in 1915 (while hauling loads of coal from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. during the daytime). Armstrong’s career as a professional musician was underway.

The 100th anniversary of this historic engagement will be celebrated in this new exhibit, opening in New Orleans at the Old U.S. Mint on July 29, 2015 as part of the annual Satchmo Summerfest presented by Chevron and will remain on exhibit through January 2017.

The exhibit will showcase over 70 different artifacts, including Armstrong’s first cornet from the Colored Waif’s Home, which will sit side-by-side with the last Selmer trumpet he brought for his final visit home in 1968. Most of the materials on display are from the research collections of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, with the great majority never having been previously exhibited in New Orleans. Armstrong’s great love of New Orleans cooking, and especially red beans and rice, will also feature prominently.

Armstrong’s voice will play a major role throughout, telling his story in rare excerpts from his private tapes, video excerpts from television interviews, and dozens of pages from different manuscripts he compiled over the years, including an unpublished telling of an encounter he had with a racist radio announcer at the Suburban Gardens during his first return trip home in 1931. 

Visitors to the exhibition will discover the complexities of Louis’ relationship with New Orleans and understand his deep love for the Big Easy. Satchmo: His Life in New Orleans will be open at the Old U.S. Mint on July 29, 2015 and run through 2017. The Old U.S. Mint has free admission and is open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00 am – 4:30 pm and is closed Mondays and state holidays.

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