Community Engagement at the Louis Armstrong House Museum and Archives

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The Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM) is an iconic cultural site that cultivates community through jazz culture and is located in the Corona neighborhood of Queens on 107th Street. For two decades, LAHM has honored the legacy of jazz trumpeter and vocalist Louis Armstrong and his wife Lucille Armstrong, through the preservation of the historic house and archives. The public experiences this history, and Louis Armstrong’s story, through a 45-minute to 1-hour guided house tour of his Corona, Queens residence. For Black History Month each February, LAHM customizes their regular tours to bring attention to Louis Armstrong’s contribution to the US civil rights movement.

Lucille Armstong, who purchased the Corona residence, bequeathed their home to the City of New York in 1971 after Louis’s passing, which later turned it over to the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA).

In 1987, the DCA appointed Queens College as the administrator of the Louis Armstrong Archives, and in 1991, Michael Cogswell was hired as the Archivist by Queens College. Cogswell opened the Louis Armstrong archives to the public in 1994 after three years of preserving, cataloging, and arranging them, and then went on to restore and open up the Armstrong’s residence to the public in 2003.

As of July 6, 2023, there is a newly opened Louis Armstrong center across the street from Armstrong’s house museum. The center features the “Here to Stay” exhibition that illuminates Louis Armstrong’s five-decade career and is a permanent home to 60,000-piece archives of Louis and Lucille Armstrong. On-site research of the Armstrong archives is currently available to the public by appointment only, and most of the archive is digitized and available to the public for free on the website.

Grammy-award-winning artist and the Director of Research Collections at LAHM, Ricky Riccardi, mentioned that the museums research collections are of great interest to the public, stating, “The general public mostly knows Armstrong as the guy with the gravely voice who sang ‘What a Wonderful World’ or as a great trumpet player, but the research collections tell the full story of Armstrong’s life, offstage and on. I truly believe that we are still at the beginning of an Armstrong renaissance and one day, people are going to name him with the greats of history like Shakespeare and Beethoven.”

Riccardi is also an adjunct lecturer at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College, where he teaches a graduate course called “Music of Louis Armstrong,” which he described “touches on music, film, radio, television, social changes, issues of race, and more.”

The community concerts hosted at LAHM feature contemporary artists, such as five-time Grammy award winner Esperanza Spalding in 2023. Spalding formerly participated in the Armstrong Now Artist in Residence program, which provides budding artists with the opportunity to research, rehearse, and perform for guests at the LAHM jazz center using the Armstrong archives. Adriana Carrillo, the Director of Guest Experience at LAHM, stated, “College students should consider attending community concerts at LAHM because they are inexpensive with a ticket being seven dollars and the level of artistry we’re providing is exclusive, and that’s what college students deserve to experience.”

Since the summer of 2021, LAHM has provided community trumpet lessons, dance and yoga classes, and ambassador days, during which house tours are given in a variety of languages. Carrillo described LAHM’s trumpet learning program as “a unique opportunity for the Queens borough because it is taught for children from the ages of eight to 14 by top-tier artists and educators, is easily accessible for Queens residents without requiring them to commute to Manhattan, and is low-cost.”

LAHM has also partnered with Neighborhood Housing Services of Queens (NHQS) in September 2023 for arts and justice housing workshops, to engage with first-time homebuyers. The curriculum was designed by Charanya Ramakrishnan, a museum staff member. She described the process of creating the curriculum, recalling, “When Regina Bain, the executive director at LAHM, mentioned the possibility of developing an educational housing workshop, I researched the history of the neighborhood and the archives. We also realized how difficult it was for Lucille, a black woman, to buy a house during the 1940s.”

Canan Vardal, museum associate and undergraduate student said, “I like that the community programs are pretty accessible and as a college student, it’s a great opportunity to learn without an entire workload of textbooks.” As such, LAHM is involved in community engagement on housing, incarceration, and public advocacy, all of which contribute to the organization’s mission of preserving Armstrong’s legacy of community building.

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