Louis Armstrong’s birthday celebrated in Queens

Gwyn Jay Allen (l.) and his band performed Louis Armstrong songs to the delight of attendees at a birthday bash for the beloved jazz musician. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
By Connor Adams Sheets

Satchmo was alive and well again for his 110th birthday celebration Sunday in Queens.

Born in New Orleans, jazz legend Louis Armstrong spent much of his adult life living in a house in Corona before being buried in Flushing Cemetery.

So friends and fans of the great trumpeter and singer gathered at his home at 34-56 107th St. to commemorate a peerless musician who was born on Independence Day.

The highlight of the event was a rousing performance by Gwyn Jay Allen, who sang Armstrong standards like “Hello Dolly” and “What a Wonderful World” with uncanny accuracy, bringing chills to audience members’ spines with his imitation of Armstrong’s signature growl.

The event drew about 100 people from across the borough representing all different races, creeds and ages.

But some of the eldest attendees had the greatest connection with the man.

Selma Heraldo has lived in the house next door to Armstrong’s for decades. She did not disclose her age, but she and Armstrong’s wife, Lucille, were friends during his heyday and she remembers that he always used to refer to her as “Firecracker” when they used to spend time together.

She has a host of stories about her beloved “Pops,” as she always called him, but most of all she remembers his infectiously positive personality.

“It was always something good to say about Louis. I don’t think you could ever say a bad word about him,” she recalled over coffee ice cream on a picnic table in Armstrong’s Japanese garden. “But when he was home here he wanted a little peace and rest, and if he practiced he muted. He didn’t stand out there and blow.”

Phoebe Jacobs, executive vice president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, was also a close friend of the Armstrongs. She said he lives on in Queens through the foundation, which provides musical education opportunities to hundreds of underprivileged students.

“The foundation established what Louis wanted, which was music education in the various cities where he gained recognition,” she recalled. “He said he wanted to give back to the world some of the good he got.”

State Assemblyman Jeffrion Aubry (D-Corona) said he remembers photographs of Armstrong playing the horn with neighborhood children on his front stoop, passing his knowledge and love of music on to a younger generation.

A generous man who symbolized home to Corona residents, Aubrey said, Armstrong was dedicated to his neighborhood and borough, and his legacy lives on as an example for youths looking to achieve greatness. As such, the annual birthday bash is a rare chance to honor a great man, he said.

“Corona has been a place where many people came through, but Louis stayed, and I think that combined with his universal appeal as a human demands that we continue doing this. And it keeps the music alive,” Aubrey said. “This is Louis’s town, thank goodness. It’s so special.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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