Monday, October 18, 2010
On our trip to New Orleans, we hit several bookstores, among them Peaches Records on Decatur Street. They always have a nice selection of books about New Orleans culture, music and food. They had Terry Teachout's biography of Louis Armstrong in paperback, which I'd been waiting for. Because we'd just been in Armstrong's home town, I spent some time Googling addresses from the book and looking at maps to find out what we had been anywhere near. There is not much left of Armstrong's New Orleans, other than North Rampart Street (the north border of the French Quarter), where in his youth black families were welcome to patronize the Jewish and Sicilian merchants. There is a sign or two left over long-closed stores. The house where Armstrong was born, and the Colored Waifs Home where he learned to play the coronet are gone. The neighborhood where his family lived after Storyville appears to be Treme. He was baptized at the Church of the Sacred Heart on Canal Street.
That said, I don't remember a time when I wasn't a fan of Armstrong's music. Teachout's book is the first definitive biography of him; Teachout was able to use the archives from the Armstrong Museum on Corona, Queens. I only have more respect for Armstrong as a man and his artistry having read this book. He had aspects of his life which must have given him much pain, but he brought his listeners such joy.
Photo credit: Philippe Halsman/Magnum