Today, the internationally renowned Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, announced the official opening date of its new state-of-the-art building, preserving and expanding the legacy and ideals of America’s first Black popular music icon. The Louis Armstrong Center will open on Thursday, July 6. Armstrong’s values of Artistic Excellence, Education and Community will be fostered in Here to Stay, the new Center’s exhibition, curated by award-winning pianist, composer and Kennedy Center Artistic Director for Jazz, Jason Moran.
Grounded in the new building design by Caples Jefferson Architects, the new Center will be a permanent home for the 60,000-piece Louis Armstrong Archive(the world’s largest for a jazz musician) and a 75-seat venue offering performances, lectures, films, and educational experiences. “This is a landmark moment for the Louis Armstrong House Museum,” said Executive Director Regina Bain. “Standing on the shoulders of the jazz and community greats who have come before us, the new Louis Armstrong Center invites today’s musicians, neighbors, and global fans to discover Louis and Lucille Armstrong’s story from a new perspective. We will bring the Armstrongs’ unique archives alive through new interactive events. And we will ensure that music once again rings out on 107th Street through groundbreaking programs in collaboration with emerging artists and contemporary icons.”
The Louis Armstrong Center will become a new international destination celebrating Armstrong’s distinctive role in African-Diaspora history and vitality, offering year-round exhibitions, performances, readings, lectures, and screenings through an array of public programs for all ages. With longstanding partners Queens College and the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, and with a growing list of members, supporters and programmatic collaborators, the museum and center will become a Queens-based hub for inspiration and learning, economic development and tourism – from New Yorkers to the world. The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation donated the Armstrong archives in the 1980s and provided the funds to purchase the lot on which the new Center sits. CUNY and Queens College officials, working with state and city legislators and executive offices, led the advocacy for the funding of the $26 million building across the street from the original Armstrong home.
Funds were awarded by the Office of the Governor, the New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, Office of the New York City Mayor, Office of the Queens Borough President, and theNew York City Council. The Dormitory Authority of the State of New York(DASNY) led the construction project. The staff and board of the museum for the past 15 years, including former Director, Michael Cogswell, worked tirelessly to ensure the new building’s success. The opening of the Center has spurred the creation of new programming. The Museum is announcing the upcoming season of its groundbreaking Armstrong Now, which will feature the creation and debut of new works by Esperanza Spalding, Amyra León and Antonio Brown.
Armstrong Now contextualizes Louis Armstrong’s immense contributions in a contemporary era and provides established and emerging artists with a platform to create new work inspired by Armstrong’s legacy, as well as the vast collection of artifacts and documents in the Armstrong archives. The Museum also recently launched an outreach program to local schools, providing trumpet lessons, made possible by a donation of musical instruments from Ken Karnofsky, a descendant of the same family who helped Armstrong buy his first instrument. Ticketing and information about all of the museum’s events and programs can be found at here.
This National Historic Landmark museum welcomes its new addition across the street during Black Music Month and the 80th anniversary of Louis and Lucille Armstrong moving to the legendary jazz trumpeter & singer’s restored home. Visitors have included Wynton Marsalis, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Charlie Watts, Ken Burns, Jon Batiste, Ron Howard, Bette Midler and many more. “Louis Armstrong is the greatest of all American virtuosos,” states Wynton Marsalis, President of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation and Managing and Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. “With his trumpet and voice, Armstrong redefined what it meant to be modern by testifying to the range and depth of humanity from the vantage point of the bottom social strata in post-Reconstruction America. He was able to evoke deep blues and spiritual feeling, to dance notes with extreme rhythmic sophistication, and to improvise meaningful melodies on the spot with absolute harmonic accuracy.
The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation was the baseline grantor of the Louis Armstrong House Museum and we have been in full support throughout the growth of this historic site. We are so proud of the Museum, and now, the new Armstrong Center. This great achievement is a physical representation of the down-home soulful world of Pops. It is much, much more than just a place. It’s a way for all people from everywhere to physically interact with the profound and deeply moving legacy of Lucille and Louis Armstrong.” The new Center’s exhibition curated by Jason Moran, Here To Stay will look at Louis Armstrong’s five-decade career as an innovative musician, rigorous archivist, consummate collaborator and community builder – entertaining millions from heads of state and royalty to the kids on his stoop in the working-class neighborhood of Corona, Queens.
“The Here to Stay exhibition is a declaration of Louis Armstrong’s infinite love of music and humanity,” said Moran. “Armstrong’s musical innovations combine with his empowerment of himself and those around him. As an incredible artist and archivist, he thoughtfully documented his life’s journey through a variety of media: cameras, typewriters, reel-to-reel recorders, and his iconic music. His magnetic musicianship allows each breakthrough in technology to catapult his star power. In Here to Stay, we amplify Louis Armstrong’s ability to connect with communities locally and globally. His star shines bright worldwide, but especially here at his home in Corona, Queens. I consider this one of the ‘wonders’ of the world, meaning, we have Lucille and Louis’ magnificent home, and now a museum dedicated to his life and archive. To have these things for an African-American musician of such stature is rare and will be celebrated forever. We thank Lucille Armstrong for her vision of what the Armstrongs mean to Queens.”
Working with the museum’s Grammy-winning Director of Research Collections Ricky Riccardi and Executive Director Regina Bain, C&G Partners (MoMA, 9/11 Memorial & Museum, Smithsonian, NASA) designed the exhibition with Art Guild(Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Martin Guitar Museum). The 60,000 photos, recordings, manuscripts, letters & mementos in the Louis Armstrong Archive will be returning home to the block where the Armstrongs lived and built the collection. Caples Jefferson Architects designed the 14,000-square-foot building to expand the capacity of the historic house museum and to allow many more people to appreciate the legacy of Louis Armstrong, the man and his music.
Armstrong was both down-home and revolutionary and this building reflects that breadth. Caples Jefferson kept the building at the scale of the modest neighborhood that he loved, while creating an urban precinct for his music that welcomes in all visitors. This new building establishes the final piece of the campus that now comprises the museum as whole; it now includes the home itself that reflects the personal values of Louis Armstrong, the garden that serves as a place for gathering and a place for live performances, the donated home of next-door neighbor Selma Heraldo, reflecting the deep roots within the community, and the new center, designed as an interpretation of Armstrong’s music, where the public can learn even more about the icon who is Louis Armstrong.
“In a neighborhood comprised of modest two-story houses, we wanted to keep the building in the scale of its surroundings while creating an urban precinct that notes the singular work of the man whose music underlies so much of what we listen to today,” explain Sara Caples and Everardo Jefferson of Caples Jefferson Architects. “The design of the museum is simultaneously exuberant and restrained, and is, in every way, a celebration of the legacy of Louis Armstrong.”
The Center and the historic house will be open to the public Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets can be purchased on the Museum’s website. Advance purchase is highly recommended as tours of the Center and the historic house have limited capacity. Authors, researchers and other scholars can visit the Armstrong archives by advance appointment. For ticketing and more information about the new Center, head here.