Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The World of a Jazz Legend Smithsonian Exhibit Becomes Showcase for Satchmo's Life

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

The World of a Jazz Legend Smithsonian Exhibit Becomes Showcase for Satchmo's Life

Article excerpt

FOR many, the enduring image of Louis Armstrong comes from his later years, the days of old Satchmo with horn and white handkerchief, smiling before another raspy-voiced chorus of "Hello, Dolly."

While that is a true image, there are others: the eminently stylish young man gazing in wonder at the instrument of his magic; the remarkable musician whose brilliant solo on "West End Blues" still wins admirers almost 70 years later; the little boy riding atop a junk cart in turn-of-the-century New Orleans, a tin horn at his lips. "Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy," now on display at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, employs all of those images. The 150 letters, photographs, paintings, recordings, selections of sheet music, television and movie clips and other artifacts make for a rich biographical portrait. It is a visit to the world and spirit of Louis Armstrong, who died 25 years ago. You come away with a renewed respect for this complex and quintessential American performer. You begin to understand the arc of his life, the impact. His musical contributions are so profound, so indisputable that Dizzy Gillespie, the trumpet giant of the be-bop generation, once said, "No him, no me."

His combination of showmanship, talent and personality made him a natural for stardom. But he became more than just another star. He became a cultural icon. His image appeared on the labels of the Louis Armstrong Special, touted as "the best 5-cent cigar on the market." LeRoy Neiman's splashy portrait is instantly recognizable. Who else could it be but "Pops," the jazz "ambassador" known the world over?

The love and admiration for Armstrong are obvious in this deeply felt exhibit. The curator, Marc Miller, spent two years pulling the show together for its 2 1/2-year journey through America. Washington is its final stop.

Albert Murray, the social critic and author, served as a consultant. His influence is seen in the introductory panel that places Armstrong alongside Pablo Picasso and James Joyce as one of the 20th century's greatest innovators.

"Looking at Armstrong in this heroic, loving way is done on purpose, because the whole handkerchief-waving . . . kind of caricature is all people knew about him," says Marquette Folley-Cooper, project director for the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. "They don't know that he's a revolutionary."

He was born to the horn. And he seems to have known he was good long before the world took notice. In a grainy, ancient photograph from the J ones Home for Colored Waifs, where he was sent at age 11 for firing a pistol on New Year's Eve, he has a cockiness and innocent's hauteur not seen in the faces of the other young band members. He is Gabriel, waiting to grow up and herald a new day.

By the time he leaves New Orleans in 1922 to join the band of his mentor, King Oliver, he seems more reserved, more content to be the respectful apprentice. …

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