“the timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness, And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream. And that that which sings and contemplates in you is still dwelling within the bounds of that first moment which scattered the stars into space.”1
How aware are we of space and time and its influences on the people we are and will become? While searching through the Louis Armstrong House Museum Archive I found myself contemplating the time Louis spent in various spaces around the world, I also began to consider the constructs of those spaces and how they transformed over the duration of his life and career. Louis was a catalyst for people with Black bodies to inhabit spaces worldwide and at the same time set claim to our own experiences in those spaces. In my most recent studies I found myself in Florence, Italy, dimensions away from any previously familiar spaces I had known. The two years I spent in Italy activated my interest in Louis’ life and career as I came across images of him from the late 1940’s in Milan and Rome. I began to be intrigued about what it was like for him to occupy similar spaces that I was now in and how time may have transformed these spaces.
The United States during this time was still battling segregation, in a prime moment of redefining the image of the black body, while at the same time the world was attempting to deal with the residue of the second World War. It was my desire to understand how Louis’ role as a Black man in the mid thirties through late forties and until the end of his career had made it possible to occupy spaces in Europe with partial ease. His Italian moments as a Black American musician offered an insight into what life was like for people of color in the U.S. at the time. Louis’ unique New Orleans upbringing gave him much appreciation for his talents and the opportunity to be a representation of Black life to the world. He reminds us through footage compiled when he visited Ghana that “if we help one another, we just can’t miss.”2 The impact of Louis’ career came at a time when the image of the black person had been reduced to slavery, black face and minstrel shows; as well as the concept of Uncle Tom and Blacks as a form of entertainment were at an all-time high. The limited perception and lack of care for the Black body and the way they occupy space was altered through Louis’ care for his craft and love for his audience. His presence in space could not be diminished, neither would it be disrespected. According to an interview with historian Mia Bay3, Louis took various stands towards equality, one being that he had one of the first mixed-race bands performing and recording songs, others being that he began to refuse to perform at venues that would not allow people him to dine or stay the night.
Through my exploration of Louis’ life throughout the 1900’s, I am able to better understand the world and space that I currently inhabit. As the global world continues to battle the implications of a Pandemic and the fight for social justice of all forms, I reflect on how Louis continued to perform and share his love for music and performance with the world. Despite all the various site specific movements that happened throughout his lifetime, he was determined to share his passion with the world. In a 2012 interview with writer Amiri Baraka4, he explained the perception of audiences towards Louis at the time and as well as speaks on his opinion on how Louis flowed through life. He was aware of the time in which he lived in and that there were conflicting forces that were determined to oppress him solely because of the color of his skin. Louis’ awareness of blackness was addressed in his actions rather than his words, in Amiri’s interview he explained that Louis was like “your grandfather who couldn’t say what you would say.” He could show how his presence influenced audiences and how over time this would be the precedent for other black creatives to occupy similar spaces.
The moments I have spent thus far working with the Louis Armstrong House Museum has offered me the opportunity to reflect on how this journey of space and time are relative to the way I experience them, and how I grasp an understanding of past, present and future moments. I’m interested in what Louis would think about my approach to being a creative at this time in the world. The challenges of having a Black body and occupying spaces stretch throughout a specific moment in history and therefore has the capability of always influencing future moments. As Louis’ legacy became a timeless treasure throughout spaces and history, I aspire to continue my life with a similar effect. Timeless through space.
“is not time even as love is, undivided and spaceless? But if in your thought you must measure time into seasons, let each season encircle all the other seasons, And let today embrace the past with remembrance and the future with longing.”5
1The Prophet, 1923, Kahlil Gibran
2Satchmo The Great, Documentary, 1957,Object ID:2006.68.1 Edward R. Murrow
3African Influence in New Orleans, 2012,Object ID:2012.42.1, LAHM Collection
4African Influence in New Orleans, 2012,Object ID: 2012.42.1, LAHM Collection
5The Prophet, 1923, Kahlil Gibran