The Armstrong Innovators; Louis the Archivist, Lucille the Curator

Louis and Lucille Armstrong were truly innovators of their time. From the strategic design of their modest home to the archival material that was birthed within it, each legend contributed considerably to the legacy of each other.


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In December of 1950, Louis began what is now referred to as the Louis Armstrong Collection, by recording his first reel-to-reel tape recording. This trend continued up until the death of Louis in 1971 and now serves as huge component of our research collections here at the Louis Armstrong House Museum. These tapes authentically play the personality of Louis to his beloved fans, researchers, or any entity interested in the life of Louis. As a hobby, Louis would record himself having casual conversation, being interviewed, playing his cornet, telling dirty jokes, and even arguing. Louis would also personalize the reel-to-reel tape recorded boxes by scrap-booking. Louis, being the avid documenter that he was, kept written documentation of soundtracks that were on these reel-to-reel tape recordings, then store them in a cabinet is his den; much like an archivist would. With over 20 years’ worth of Louis’s reel-to-reel tape recording, today LAHM Archives has far more 750 home recorded reel-to-reel tapes in hand-decorated boxes.


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In some cases, Lucille would appear on these reel-to-reel tape recording. In 1953, Lucille interviewed with radio host on the “The Homemakers Club” radio show. In this sparse interview, Lucille talked about her life as a showgirl, traveling to Europe, vaccinations associated with travel, hobbies of her and Louis and the type of person that Louis was. What I found most interesting about this interview was her response to the interviewer’s question of her hobby. Which was, “being the wife of Louis Armstrong.” Lucille found genuine pleasure in preserving the legacy of the love of her life; international superstar; trail-blazer; humanitarian, Louis Armstrong.

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Following Louis’ death in 1971, Lucille worked diligently to preserve and sustain the legacy of Louis. From having their home recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1977, to traveling domestically and internationally giving lectures of Louis; Lucille’s love and passion for Louis was evident. In a 1974 interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation, Lucille was asked about some of Louis’ things that could be referred to as archival material. Lucille responded much like a curator would by telling the interviewer that she was looking to preserve those things and eventually open a memorial/museum in Louis’ honor–and she did. 

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Identified in her Last Will and Testament, Lucille pushed for their home to become a New York City landmark in additional to it being a National Historic Landmark. Lucille then gave ownership of all musical instruments to the City of New York in “respectful memory of her deceased husband, Louis Armstrong.”


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After Lucille’s death in 1983,  the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs made the house a City Landmark in 1986, and chose Queens College to serve as our local administrator. Following a restoration project amounting in 3 million dollars, the house opened to the public on October 15, 2003 and has been serving as a House Museum since. 


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