On September 25, 2020, I authored my first blog post for this webpage. In that initial post, I drew attention to the sounds of Armstrong’s den, his personal archive, and the reel-to-reel tape recordings he made in that room. I could not have predicted that my interest in exploring Armstrong’s interactions with audio technology and recorded sound in his den would result in a final presentation entitled “She gave me a room” – Listening and Recording in Louis Armstrong’s den.” My presentation, which will occur on the day of this post’s publication, makes two proposals. The first is that Armstrong’s den should be viewed as an acoustic refuge, a term I use to refer to a physical or virtual space that immerses music individuals in a world of sound from which they can create, respond, express themselves, and connect with others. The second is that Armstrong’s den and his overall house should be viewed as a sonic site, a space in which listening to diverse sounds and engaging with various audio technologies are signature experiences that link the past, present, and future. Without serving as a Fellow at the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM), I would not have been able to develop this topic or expand my research interests.
I first visited the LAHM in 2018, the year I moved to New York to begin graduate work at New York University. During that initial visit to the museum, I was struck by the use of audio clips featuring Armstrong’s voice, which I learned were from some of his reel-to-reel tapes housed in the institution’s archives. My ears had become familiar with listening to curated sounds in museums thanks to a trip I took a few weeks before graduate school commenced. In August 2018, my father and I headed to England to (re)explore various parts of the country. While there, we visited four different music institutions/sites- Handel and Hendrix in London, The British Music Experience, and the historic childhood homes of Paul McCartney and John Lennon. As a music lover and former ethnomusicology student, the auditory experiences at these institutions/sites, which included listening to recordings of George Frederic Handel’s works and a singing hologram of Boy George, inspired me to consider the use of sound and visitor listening experiences in music museums and exhibitions. While at New York University, I explored this topic in my advanced certificate paper for the Museum Studies Department by analyzing the exhibition rooms of the LAHM and the exhibition entitled Musical Crossroads, located inside the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). I am glad that my LAHM final presentation connects my past and present research on sound, listening, audio technology, and museums.
As I move forward in my professional career, I recognize that there will be fewer opportunities to pursue scholarly research. After many years of school, I find it challenging to de-emphasize my academic identity and envision a non-student life without a university setting and all that it provides. I appreciate that the LAHM fellowship has made it possible for me to honor my academic roots and imagine a new professional future. During my tenure as a Fellow, I have helped develop and execute virtual public programs and educational initiatives, which have allowed me to develop skills in areas of museum work that I am most interested in pursuing upon completing the fellowship in March 2022.
In conclusion, I wish to share one final story. After my first visit to the LAHM in 2018, I got on the subway to return to the Village. While changing from the seven to the six train in Manhattan, I heard a subway musician play “What A Wonderful World.” Hearing the song after having a fun and engaging experience at the LAHM caused me to smile. At the time, I considered that fleeting moment a funny coincidence. Looking back, I like to think that moment was more significant – it was a musical preview of what was to come.