Louis Armstrong, one of the greatest American artists, lived in New York City from 1943 until his death in 1971. His home in the Corona section of Queens is now a museum. I went there yesterday with my mother.
I love Louis Armstrong, and I was happy to visit the home that meant so much to him. However, the Louis Armstrong House itself is more house than Louis. My mom and I were lucky to have a private tour - the guide took us alone, in between giant groups of Japanese tourists - but the tour was more about wallpaper and furnishings than Satchmo. This may be unavoidable, since Armstrong spent 300 days a year on the road, and home was really his wife Lucille's domain.
One exception to this was Armstrong's study. His state-of-the-art recording equipment is built into the wall and handwritten notes about music are on the desk. In that room, Armstrong hung out with Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, and dozens of other musicians, making music and shooting the breeze. That just gave me chills.
Armstrong was very technologically savvy, and he loved recording all kinds of sounds - the every day music of life. He had the whole house wired for sound, and made more than 650 hours of tapes, all of which live in the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College.
On the house tour, you can hear snippets of those tapes in each room of the house. In the study, you hear Armstrong talking about the joys of having a separate room just for himself ("Study? Who ever heard of having a study? When I was growing up, any room you had, you'd be sleeping in - all ten of you!") and about the necessity of listening to all different kinds of music. Someone else is making fun of The Beatles, but Armstrong says he listens to The Beatles, and everyone should listen to as many different kinds of music as possible. Yeah, Satchmo.
If you venture out to Corona to visit the Louis Armstrong House, the thing to do is make a day of it on the 7 line in Queens. The famous 7 train of the NYC subway slices through one of the most ethnically diverse areas in the world. And because it's a very working-class, urban landscape, there's a lot of street life. The 7 runs on an elevated track above Roosevelt Avenue. Roosevelt Avenue and the streets immediately off it are lined with shops, restaurants and markets from people all over the world. You'll want to log on to Chowhound.com for some pointers, pick a few stops, and make sure you're hungry.
While you're out there, stop in at the Queens Museum of Art to see the panorama. It's amazing. There are many other nice things to do in Queens, but if you ask me, they are all excuses to sample (literally) the glorious mosaic of New York City.