Each year the Louis Armstrong House Museum holds their Annual Gala for board members, staff, donors, and contributors to the preservation of Louis’ legacy. This year the Gala was entitled “That’s My Home!”, commemorating the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Armstrongs purchasing their home in Corona, Queens. It was held at the Capitale building in downtown Manhattan; a beautiful structure that once housed The Bowery Savings Bank. Its high ceilings, heavily detailed sculpting, large columns, and massive foyer was a marvelous accompaniment to the Gala’s layout.
Traditionally the Gala Committee chooses a person or organization that has contributed significantly to the life and legacy of Louis Armstrong to be the Gala honoree. This year the Legacy Honorees were Saul Kupferberg and Gail Coleman (pictured below), New York City Philanthropists and Community Builders, and the Music Honoree was Herb Alpert, iconic trumpeter and philanthropist. All of these honorees have contributed to the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation with their commitments and financial support. The host for the evening was public radio host from WQXR, Terrance McKnight (pictured below); whose charm filled the gala throughout the program.
The Louis Armstrong House Museum Gala was the first gala I had the pleasure of attending. To be quite honest, it was not what I had expected. Usually when I think about the word “Gala” I associate it with overtly formal, stiff, and to be frank, boring. But the LAHM Gala diminished those assertions. Accompanying the illustrious decor was the air of humor and admiration for Louis Armstrong. Each guest had their own special connection to his story, whether it be a devoted fan, a musician who played along side him, or the staff of the museum; the room was filled with genuine warmth. Possibly my favorite moment of the night was interacting with the guests that came to have their pictures taken with Louis in the foyer. As the “Red Carpet Captain” I was responsible for ensuring that each guest who took a picture was identified. It was during the cocktail hour and allowed me to meet the Legacy Honorees and other special guests. In fact, one special guest in particular has been a topic of discussion around the LAHM community; comedian and actor Tracy Morgan. Tracy Morgan joined us at the Gala because of his recent commitment to portraying Louis Armstrong in a biographical film. After dinner, a brief teaser was shown of Tracy as Louis singing “What A Wonderful World”. The gala was filled with excitement and anticipation for the upcoming film.
Although the LAHM Gala is a festive event to commemorate the legacy of Louis Armstrong, it would not be possible without the diligent efforts from the staff of LAHM. Since our fellowship began and even prior, the staff of LAHM has tirelessly prepared for this special night. From working with the event coordinators and Gala Committee to folding and hand writing invitations for guests, this small but passionate group has executed an amazing event year after year. The Louis Armstrong House Museum’s team of staff and volunteer docents are truly the backbone of preserving Louis’ legacy. Six days out the week, the docents and staff that work at the house location give tours to visitors from all around the world. Many of them come from different cultural, educational, and career backgrounds which allows each tour to be unique and focused on different aspects of Louis’ life. The staff at the archives research and provide the important context that helps to tell this amazing story. During the gala, the host asked all of us to stand and acknowledged the contributions that each of us makes daily. It was in that moment that I realized how special this group of people are. That they have the opportunity to share the true narrative of such an iconic figure and that for a brief moment during this extravagant night, they were recognized for their work.
All together it was a beautiful night, filled with laughter and entertainment. I like to think that Louis would be happy to see so many people affected by his life and be very appreciative that we all come together to celebrate him.