July 6: Louis Armstrong’s Jewish Star

louis armstrong 12Louis (“Satchmo”) Armstrong, the pioneering genius of jazz, died on this date in 1971. He wore a Star of David throughout his adult life in tribute to the Karnofskys, a family of Jewish peddlers from Lithuania who had given him work and warm family friendship during his hard-scrabble childhood in New Orleans. Armstrong wrote a memoir about the Karnofsky family in 1969, in which he said that they taught him “how to live — real life and determination,” and also described their mistreatment by whites “who felt that they were better than the Jewish race…. I was only seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for…. They were always warm and kind to me, which was very noticeable to me — just a kid who could use a little word of kindness.” The Karnofskys also lent him money with which to buy his first cornet. Armstrong began writing the memoir in 1969 while recovering from a life-threatening illness at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital, where he heard his doctor singing a Yiddish lullaby that Mrs. Karnofsky had used to put her children to sleep.

“I will love the Jewish people, all of my life.” —Louis Armstrong

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Comments (23)

  1. Wile the singular Mr. Armstrong wrote an account of his life…..with the same ingenuous, luminous energy and authenticity that marked his musical genius, I would highly recommend you see Ken Burn’s breathtaking, ten part documentary, JAZZ.

    It’s available on DVD, and every minute of the close to 20 hours is a gift.

    The events in question are delineated.

  2. This brings tears to my eyes. Barach HaShem. I am so thankful that these Jews lived a truly Jewish life. Let no one ever forget how we must be the best Jews that we can be every minute of every day. “You must be Holy because I your G-d am Holy. “

  3. It always refresh the soul when story’s like this come to light. I thank God for people who out of love give love to others without expecting anything but the satisfaction of being them self’s, lovely people.

  4. Thank you for sharing.I discovered the genius of this great musician but to know about his gratitude out-shadows everything.RIP, Louis Armstrong and Shalom!

  5. a very inspiring story which makes anyone really love Jewish people. God is no respecter of person, He taught them, we should do the same.

  6. Mr Armstrong, ‘me too!’ They gave me the Holy Bible and the totally Jewish Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. Thank you!

  7. Wow. Thanks for sharing that important bit of history from the great Satchmos life. Alan English, thanks for your inspiring post. A wonderful world indeed…

  8. What a lovely story thank you very much for bringing this to the public’s attention . With so much death, doom and gloom which we’re constantly bombarded with it’s so nice just to read a good news story for a change.

  9. I must find the book. Also, will look for the DVD, “Jazz”. Thank you so much. I also wear a Star of David close to my heart.

  10. Armstrong’s own account, which he called “Louis Armstrong + The Jewish Family in New Orleans, LA, The Year of 1907,” appears in Louis Armstrong: In His Own Words, Selected Writings from Oxford University Press. You can read a portion of it in Google Books at this link: http://bit.ly/181Bbah

  11. “Satchmo” used to be one of my favourites singer when I was young. This story is so good to hear. I am glad there are still people who are not prejudiced. We need to hear more about these unselfish acts.

  12. He was a very generous kind man. When my father, part owner of Basin Street & the Embers, totalled his car, Louis Armstrong lent us his grey cadillac.

    • Dear Susan,
      Your comment was of particular interest to me as a docent at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens. When I shared it with the staff there, they were extremely interested as well. I would love to hear from you regarding any information you could share about Louis Armstrong. I was delighted to learn about the one you shared about the cadillac. In addition, if you haven’t already visited the house museum I would be happy to give you a tour .

  13. For Mr. Armstrong to witness the harsh treatment of Jews in NOLA is quite the contrast to how Iraelis are currently treating the Africans, and others, not wanted in Israel today. I think Satchmo is turning over in his grave.

  14. As a docent at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Coronoa, Queens, I am well aware of Louis Armstrong’s connection to the Karnofsky’s and to Jewish people. I make a point of sharing this information with the visitors, who come from all over the world. I strongly recommend a visit to the Louis Armstrong House Museum. You will visit where he lived from 1943 until his death in 1971. And as I see it “you’ll be walking in his footsteps”.

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