It is an essential part of jazz history: Louis Armstrong’s life as a New Orleans street kid and his consignment in 1913 to the Colored Waifs Home where he learned to play the cornet. He wrote about it himself, memorably, in his autobiography. Armstrong historians and biographers may have thought that they had learned everything there was to know about Armstrong’s early years. Now, they are finding that there is more to the story. Newly surfaced documents from the Waifs Home have led in turn to the discovery of newspaper stories about Armstrong escapades even earlier than his arrest for exuberantly firing a pistol into the air.
From the New Orleans Times-Picayune story about what those records show:
At the top of the page, “colored” is typed in parentheses. “Daily Census for the month ending Jan. 1910,” it says below that. In the upper right corner is a handwritten note: “Louis Armstrong in the Nov. report of 1910. Pending trial. Dis Nov. 8, 1910 to aunt.”
On May 31, just over four months after Armstrong landed in the Colored Waifs Home for at least the second time, The Daily Picayune described the home’s band on parade the day before, with Armstrong, then 11, as its charismatic leader.
“This is mind-blowing,” said Ricky Riccardi, archivist at the Louis Armstrong House and Museum in New York City’s borough of Queens and author of What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later Years. “I’ve been spending half my life researching Armstrong, and this is a breakthrough.”
For the extensive Times-Picayune story by reporter James Karst about the discovery, photographs of the documents and news stories, and details about what they disclose, click here.
For a reminderif you need oneof Armstrong’s brilliance after he left New Orleans, please listen to this (try to ignore the paper sleeve ballet, but not Armstrong’s solo):
Louis Armstrong, trumpet; Fred Robinson, trombone; Jimmy Strong, tenor saxophone; Don Redman, alto saxophone; Earl Hines, piano; Dave Wilborn, banjo; Zutty Singleton, drums. December 5, 1928, Chicago.