A Visit to the Pops Home

In New York City or more specially Corona, Queens, July is the month when thoughts turn to the legacy of one Louis Armstrong. According to his own reckoning, "Pops" was born on July 4, 1900, but in reality he was born on August 4, 1901. Last weekend, I made the pilgrimage with my patient wife to the Pops home in Corona, to view what is now the Louis Armstrong House Museum.

Administered by Queens College, which owns the house and also houses the Louis Armstrong Archive, the trumpeter's home is in a neighborhood that has morphed from African-American to Latino since Armstrong died in 1971, is just as it was left when his wife Lucille died in 1983. A very modest dwelling that once also housed Lucille's mother in an upstairs apartment, the two-story brick building is surrounded by a beautiful garden and now has a shop and small museum in the basement (where there's a beautiful copy of the famous Jim Flora illustrated Armstrong 78rpm set).

The house is an essential visit for all Armstrong fans. While the formerly white couches in the living are now stained (presumably with water) and the place is a bit ragged around the edges, the custom kitchen, with its blue cabinets and built in small appliances is like a wonderful trip back into the swinging '60s. At certain points in the tour, tapes of Armstrong talking play when the docent pushes a button on the wall. The one featuring Pops talking incredulously about brussel sprouts—he was dubious about eating them—may be the highlight of the entire tour.

Upstairs, while the silver-foil wallpaper in the bedroom and the marble and gold bathroom fixtures are fun to gaze upon and all, it's the front room, Pop's study, that's of greatest interest to fans of audio gear and music. In the archives at Queens College are 700 reels of tape that Armstrong made on his two built-in Tandberg reel-to-reel ¼" tape recorders. A Marantz tuner and integrated amp, also housed in custom in-wall cabinets, and a Dual 1019 turntable completed Armstrong's home audio system.

He had multiple AR speakers, all of which, oddly, were mounted flush in the ceiling. And he went on tour with an Aiwa ¼" recorder, not only so he could make impromptu tapes of his own music but also because he was an inveterate copier of music from LP to tape. Most charming, he was also an obsessive decorator of the actual tape boxes, using newspaper clippings, magazine photos and anything else that came into his orbit. Between the tape boxes and his numerous scrapbooks which are even more elaborate than the tape boxes, Armstrong, besides being a great singer and instrumentalist, was also an accomplished visual artist.

While a surprising amount of jazz history occurred in Queens—we also stopped at the apartment building where famed trumpet virtuoso Bix Beiderbecke drank himself to death at age 28 in 1931—the Louis Armstrong House is an intimate window into a giant of world music.

Louis Armstrong House, 34-56 107th Street, Corona, NY 11368. Tel: (718) 478-8274. Web: www.louisarmstronghouse.org/.

DH's picture
Allen Fant's picture

Nicely done- RB.

Pryso's picture

Many thanks for this Robert. My dad was 7 years younger than Armstrong and almost a life-long fan. So I heard lots of his music while growing up.

In fact the first concert I attended was Armstrong and the All Stars before I was 10. Whatever possessed my parents to include me at that age I don't know, but I'm forever grateful.

I'm also grateful that one thing passed down to me was a 78 album, only three records, of Louie and the All Stars at Town Hall, NYC, April, 1947. I just received a 78 stylus last week and soon expect to have my Technics restored so I can listen to those again.

Dad would have loved hearing those again, but probably more the chance visit Pop's home.