In 1968, Louis Armstrong received a Papal medal during a personal audience with Pope Paul VI. According to legend, when the pontiff asked whether the guest and his wife, Lucille, had any children, Armstrong answered, "No Daddy, but we're still wailing." While this story is apocryphal, there are other oddball facts about the great artist that are not in doubt. For instance, did you know that Armstrong signed his personal correspondence "Red Beans and Ricely Yours"? Or that he never traveled anywhere without both a coffee tin full of cannabis and a handy pocket stash of Swiss Kriss herbal laxatives (which, supposedly, he once raved about to the Queen of England). Or that he liked to relax during down time by penning pornographic short stories?
Well another lesser-known fact about Armstrong is that, along with the medicinal supplements stowed in his carry-on, he toted reel-to-reel recording decks with him everywhere. With them he committed to tape concerts, conversations, his own playing and talking, audio flotsam from the Satchmo Universe. Even more impressive, Armstrong adorned the audio tape boxes with alluring and vivid Romare Bearden–esque collages layering photos, news clippings, concert programs, handwritten captions and other graphic elements. Armed with scotch tape and scissors, Armstrong spent countless hours entertaining himself, squirreled away in the den of his home in Corona, Queens, making visual music. Here is a sampling of the maestro's handiwork:
More than a thousand such collages reside in the Louis Armstrong Archives, which are housed at Queens College in Flushing, New York. For more details on Louis Armstrong's remarkable forays into the graphic arts, see the article in the Spring 2008 issue of The Paris Review. For a copy of Satchmo's recipe for Red Beans and Rice (with a Swiss Kriss chaser), go here.