The Louis Armstrong House Museum has had the pleasure of having Michael Cogswell as its Executive Director since 1995, though he began as LAHM’s first archivist in 1991. He has lead this organization from its infancy to where we are today, finally beginning construction on our long-planned Education Center across the street from the Museum. Unfortunately, Michael has been out on leave and did not have the opportunity to meet the Fellows until he was able to stop by the Archives earlier this month. As you may guess, this was a highly anticipated meeting and you can read Deja and Jayson’s impressions below.
When most people are extended a job opportunity, they usually meet their employer shortly following their start date. However, upon my arrival to The Louis Armstrong House curatorial program, that was not the case. The staff has taken great initiative to get me in tune with my responsibilities, despite the absence of the director. Yet I always wondered about Michael Cogswell, the director. Since the beginning of my time here, he has been absent out on an extended medical leave.
I’ve always been fascinated with the stories of major pioneers who have paved the way before me. Whether it be Louis Armstrong himself, Barack and Michelle Obama, or even Beyoncé Knowles, the narratives behind the success always amaze me. I find their accounts to be interesting, because I too, would like to be of positive impact. I’d like to think that Michael is a pioneer in his own right due to his major contributions to The Louis Armstrong House Museum.
After 3 months of anticipation, Jayson, BJ (LAHM’s current interim director), and myself were given the chance to sit face to face with Michael. Opening the conversation, Jayson asked “How?” and Michael went into, with great detail, a timeline of his career with the organization.
Michael’s determination and persistence are extremely admirable. He explained that he initially came as an archivist to sort through Louis’s personal records in 1994, and eventually became the director of the program. He even went on to explain how he had to make executive decisions that still affect operations to this day.
To be at the helm of an organization since its founding will say a lot about you, but also the organization itself. And of course, Michael Cogswell, former director of The Louis Armstrong House Museum, had a lot to say when I had the pleasure of meeting him for the first time.
No more than one word, I asked him one question – “How?” It was the only question I thought I wanted to know, but it wasn’t the last one I would be asking over an hour-long conversation. For an hour, he went into great detail about how it all happened over time, and it wasn’t easy. But, as someone interested in being a museum director, things made sense.
Directorship is more than maintaining the day-to-day happenings, and although it may not be the most appealing career to some, it’s ideal to those who do find themselves in those positions. Unquestionably, the way Mr. Cogswell guided the conversation along about the opening, collections backlog, building a team, and much more, one could see his passion for this museum – for Louis.
What started off as an assortment of boxes turned into a national historic landmark and museum. The shared vision of Mr. Cogswell and those working alongside him have made the continuation of such a museum possible. Before, we had only corresponded via telephone and email threads. Those conversations, often very abrupt and to the point, besides the initial interview, still gave me the feeling that he wanted to make sure whoever would be joining the team really wanted to be on it. And still, despite the fact that his medical leave kept him out of the office, his absence meant nothing because his presence was felt by the way colleagues and staff members alike talked about him.
To that, I’m honored to have met the man who has carried along the legacy of a man cherished by folk around the world, it’s because his passion that LAHM is still running and growing.
Written By: Jayson Overby and Deja Patterson