Famous jazz composer Duke Ellington once said, “If anyone was Mr. Jazz, it was Louis Armstrong.”. Throughout the early to mid-1900s, Louis Armstrong pioneered jazz music, making waves with his improvised solos, use of scat singing and update on the swing. Today, he is recognized as one of the most well-known and talented jazz musicians of all time. While he touched audiences throughout the world, he was most beloved by fans in his adoptive home city of Corona, Queens, NY, where the Louis Armstrong House stands today. This museum continues to delight fans of all ages who appreciate Armstrong’s music and legacy. However, the museum would not be able to touch the lives of fans throughout the world without the continued support of sponsors, such as long-time music aficionado and Founder, Chairman and CEO of investment firm Vista Equity Partners, Robert F. Smith.
Robert F. Smith Sparks Online Digitization Efforts
In 2015, Smith reached out to the Louis Armstrong House Museum directly about creating a digital archive that would offer a direct portal into Louis Armstrong’s daily life and continue his mission to preserve African American history. The museum applied for a grant in 2016 through the Fund II Foundation, whose founding director and President is Smith. The Louis Armstrong House Museum was provided with a generous grant totaling $3 million, with $2.7 million allocated to digitization efforts, allowing fans from all over the world to experience some of the exciting collections from the museum without ever having to travel to New York. The remaining $300,000 went towards the hiring of two full-time museum fellows from historically black colleges or universities to help with the digitization alongside Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections, Sarah Rose, manager of research collections, and a few interns.
In 2018, the first phase of the digitization efforts was finally completed. “It’s just a blur… But I’m happy to report, the digitization is complete,” Riccardi stated. Among the artifacts digitized include photographs, letters, audio, newspaper clippings, video, personal papers, sheet music, scrapbooks and thousands of other irreplaceable artifacts from the life of Louis Armstrong. More specifically, the online collection includes some of Armstrong’s never-before-heard concert recordings, as well as spoken word tapes and images from his childhood.
Continued Collections Made Possible by Robert F. Smith
Since the start of the digitization efforts, many exhibits have become part of the online collection. For example, in April 2020, the Louis Armstrong House launched the new online exhibit, “That’s My Home.” This exhibit allows fans all over the world to view the important aspects that made up Louis’s life at his home in Corona, Queens, NY, where he spent most of his life. “Today we celebrate the precious time Satchmo spent at home in Corona, Queens, as we spend time at home ourselves. We hope that we can all draw inspiration from Armstrong’s love for his neighborhood, his community and New York, his adopted city,” stated acting director Jeff Rosenstock. The exhibit most notably includes virtual tours of the home and two-and-a-half-hour interview between Armstrong and a “Down Beat” interviewer.
Aside from his generous grant to kickstart the museum’s digitization efforts, Smith continues to support the Louis Armstrong House as a member of the Board of Trustees. The Fund II Foundation also remains one of the museum’s major sponsors.
Learn more about Robert F. Smith’s philanthropic efforts here.