The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, is the largest museum dedicated to a single jazz artist. And it just got larger. As of November 28, every item in the Louis Armstrong Museum Collection has been scanned and digitized and can now be viewed by anyone in the world via the museum’s website.
Comprising some 60,000 items, the collection includes artifacts ranging from photographs and album sleeves to journal entries, letters and personal effects. Previously, those seeking access to the archive were required to make an in-person visit to the Louis Armstrong Archives at Queens College. But through the digital archive, Armstrong fans will be able to search, browse — and in some cases purchase — digital copies of each artifact online. Access to the online archive is free, but users will have to register for an account.
According to Ricky Riccardi, Director of Research Collections at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, it took a “whirlwind” two years to digitize every item in the Armstrong collection. The process began in November 2016, when the museum was approached by investor and philanthropist Robert F. Smith — the world’s wealthiest African-American — about making the archive digital. With a sizable grant from Smith’s Fund II Foundation, the museum was able to bring that vision to fruition.
Items in the digital archive include roughly 5,200 transcripts of music and audio recordings, as well as more than 100 digitally restored scrapbooks. The museum also worked with Deluxe Media to digitize thousands of rare photographs and hours of film footage. Even the museum’s three-dimensional artifacts were photographed and digitized. “So, whether it’s Louis Armstrong’s couch, his ashtrays or his mouthpieces and trumpets, they all get photographs and were uploaded to the database,” Riccardi says. “All in all, we’ve got more than 17.2 terabytes of data.”
While there’s no shortage of Armstrong scholarship, Riccardi believes the digital archive will renew critical and popular interest in Armstrong’s unique brand of artistic genius. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve started to get a more complete picture of Armstrong,” he says. “We’re still learning about this man, and we’re only at the beginning. But watching his stature change over the last 50 years has been constructive. I think 50 years from now it’s going to be, ‘Who are the greats? Mozart, Shakespeare and Louis Armstrong.’” —Brian Zimmerman
Photos courtesy of the Louis Armstrong House Museum.