Listening to Louis – Part I

Listening to Louis in “my little corner of the world”

It is another day. I walk into my living room, where my beat-up black Ikea desk rests against one of the walls. I open my laptop, turn on my desk lamp, check my email, look over my list of “to-dos,” and begin my work. During the day, I know I will hear recorded sounds of Louis, either while listening to his reel-to-reel tapes on the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM) digital collections webpage or streaming his music on Spotify or Apple Music. Although I have not been able to experience what it is like to work at the LAHM during normal operations due to the ongoing pandemic, I have come to realize that I still experience special moments while teleworking in “my little corner of the world” — the times when I listen to Louis.[1]

In mid-October 2020, a month and half after the start of my fellowship, I was doing research for my blog post entitled “The Power of Armstrong’s Voice” and I decided to search YouTube for video clips of Louis on the television game show What’s My Line?[2] After clicking on a video of him appearing on the show in 1964, I noticed a column of recommended videos and clicked on one called “Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World (Original Spoken Intro Version) ABC Records 1967, 1970.” At the onset of the video, strings provide an atmospheric backdrop and Louis begins to talk. In his spoken introduction, lasting approximately one minute, he emphasizes the importance of the song and delivers a message of love and hope.

Some of you young folks been saying to me, “Hey Pops, what do you mean, “what a wonderful world?” How about all them wars all over the place? You call them wonderful? And how about hunger and pollution? That ain’t so wonderful either. Well, how about listening to old Pops for a minute. Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I am saying is see what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love baby, love. That’s the secret, yeahhh. If lots more of us loved each other, we’d solve lots more problems. And then this world would be a gasser.

I had heard “What A Wonderful World” many times before, but not that introduction. I was overwhelmed and on the verge of crying, for this time the song had new meaning.

During the autumn months of 2020 I began crafting a tour about Louis’ interactions with audio technology and recorded sound in professional studios and his home in Corona, Queens, New York. This project required searching the LAHM’s archival collections for interesting audio clips that I could feature. While listening to many of Louis’ reel-to-reel tapes, I would laugh often. Sometimes my laughter was in reaction to Louis telling a joke to his friends or his own laughter. Yet, most of the time I laughed because I loved hearing his commentaries and uninhibited reactions to recorded sound such as those featured in the following clip.

Louis listening to a V-Disc and then putting on a recording featuring Charlie Christian’s version of “Stompin’ at the Savoy”

Listening to Louis spontaneously and unselfconsciously react to music reminds me that when I hear my favorite songs I should react how I wish, especially since these days most of my listening sessions occur in my apartment and the only people who can hear me are my neighbors.

I like to think that every time I choose to listen to Louis during the workday, I am inviting him to fill my living room with the sounds that only he can create. In a time when I am not able to experience live music, explore the city, or visit others, his recordings offer so much; when I listen to them they allow me to have a deeply personal experience. I am also aware that when I listen to Louis’ reel-to-reel tapes I become part of a “listening chain.” I am listening to his recordings of him listening to recordings. I do not have much in common with Louis, but I share his love of music and listening to music. Years from now, I think hearing recorded sounds of Louis will evoke more memories than feelings. His sounds will cause me to reflect on my tenure as a Fellow at the LAHM and the times I spent immersing myself “in all things Louis” while teleworking in “my little corner of the world.”

[1] The phrase in quotation marks references the 1960 song, “My Little Corner of the World,” with music written by Lee Pockriss and lyrics by Bob Hilliard. The song has been covered by Anita Bryant (1940-present), and more recently, by the indie rock band Yo La Tengo. The opening lyrics are as follows: Oh come along with me to my little corner of the world/And dream a little dream in my little corner of the world,  

[2] Maglyn Bertrand, “The Power of Armstrong’s Voice,” West End Blog – LAHM,” October 23, 2020,  

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