Today, the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM) announces its new program Armstrong Now. In its inaugural season, contemporary Black artists respond to Louis Armstrong in an integrative video series that will roll out from October 5 through December 31, 2020, culminating in a series of live online discussions. Armstrong Now provides museum-quality programming that promotes equity, access and inclusion to a wider audience outside of its Queens community.
Inspired by the newly digitized archives of Louis Armstrong and the LAHM research collections, four groups of renowned contemporary artists, with the help of filmmaker Ben Stamper, and artistic producer Jake Goldblas have created original short films exploring their respective artforms from spoken word to dance. Each piece is intended to reacquaint audiences everywhere with Louis Armstrong’s legacy of artistry and innovation. New programming content will be released each week, beginning with today’s trailer release and ending in the last week of 2020. Armstrong Now was initially brought forth by Kenyon Adams, former Director of the Museum, and turned into a reality by Jake Goldblas, Artistic Director of Programs at Louis Armstrong House Museum & Archives.
“I am humbled and energized by what we all achieved in this debut season of Armstrong Now,” says Goldbas. “In 2020, when we find ourselves in a calamitous landscape, the digitized Armstrong Archives and home provide a lens and perspective for some of the world’s leading artists to show us the way through this. The magic that was created based on our research collections shows us the Armstrongs of today and tomorrow.”
Through a nuanced engagement with the Armstrong home and Archives, notable Black artists delve into the complexities of Louis Armstrong and what he represents to culture, responding with new work that encapsulates their own journey. The collaborations, which draw from different art disciplines and synthesize into one cohesive body of work, were filmed in and around the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The immediacy of each short film’s environment allows viewers to revel in the beauty of the artists’ work while appreciating the deep history of the museum.
Each commissioned group of artists is as follows:
Naomi Extra – Extra is a writer, poet and doctoral candidate in American Studies. In both her creative and scholarly work, she explores the themes of agency and pleasure in the lives of black women and girls.
Melanie Charles – Known for her thrilling trilingual performances in English, French and Créole, Charles is a celebrated flutist whose contributions to Haitian diasporic music were recognized by historian Ralph Boncy in Grandes dames de la musique haïtienne.
Kayla Farrish – Farrish is a New York-based director and dancer whose vision for intimate storytelling is carried out through her company Decent Structure Arts. Her work delves into socio-political structures placed on black and brown bodies in America, expectations on gender and the visibility of the underrepresented, while addressing the history and lineage through America that affects our current state.
Alita Moses – Moses is a singer who, in 2014, became the youngest ever winner of the Shure Montreux Jazz Vocal Competition. Since then, Moses has performed at Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, the Montreux Jazz Festival and many more.
Vuyo Sotashe – Sotashe is an acclaimed South African Jazz vocalist who recently toured with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.
Michael Mayo – Mayo is a veteran international performer whose highlights include singing at the White House, the Kennedy Center and Renée Fleming’s American Voices Festival. He has shared the stage and collaborated with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Christian Sands and Josh Groban.
Nêgah Santos – Santos is a percussionist from São Paulo, Brazil. Currently, she is part of Jon Batiste’s band Stay Human, which is the in-house band of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
Martha Nichols – As a prominent figure in dance, Nichols has performed everywhere from The Oscars and Cirque du Soleil to La La Land and a Rihanna tour. Nichols recently finished her season as a principal soloist with The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York and will be seen in Lin Manuel Miranda’s latest film “In The Heights.”
Christian Sands – A Steinway Artist and five-time Grammy Nominee, pianist Sands has toured internationally with Christian McBride and was a American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship Awards Finalist in 2014.
Daniel J Watts – Broadway actor Watts recently starred as Ike in the hit broadway musical TINA and has appeared in nine Broadway shows including Hamilton, Memphis and After Midnight.
Derrick Baskin – Baskin is a Tony-nominated Broadway actor best known for his role as Otis Williams in “Ain’t Too Proud” and Mitch Mahoney in “Comfort Counselor.”
Brett Williams – In addition to playing piano, Williams is a singer and songwriter who worked on the Grammy-nominated album Laid Back. Williams has performed with respected artists and musicians including Stevie Wonder, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and Billy Joel.
Braxton Cook – FADER Magazine called Cook a “Jazz Marvel” and “Jazz Prodigy” and was recently listed as a Top Five Jazz Artist To Watch by Ebony Magazine. In 2018, Braxton released his sophomore album entitled No Doubt (Independent) which debuted at #2 on iTunes Jazz Charts, amassed 1M streams in its first month and after 2 years totaled 5M streams.
“Armstrong Now is an initiative that is not only timely but necessary,” says Martha Nichols. “Understanding the parallels in cultural discourse between today and during Louis’ life, this initiative is a beautiful look into the humanity of the cultural and musical icon Louis Armstrong, while strengthening the connection with black artists of this generation.”
Earlier this year, Regina Bain was announced as LAHM’s new Executive Director. Bain brings nearly two decades of nonprofit experience with her as well as a formal education in theatre. As Executive Director, Bain will uphold LAHM’s dedication to serving its community with accessible, family-friendly arts and education through new programs like Armstrong Now.
“Through Armstrong Now, established artists of every discipline who know Louis can delve deep into his archives and create new work based on their experiences.” says Bain. “There is also a generation of artists whose work is deeply connected to Louis Armstrong but they don’t know it yet. Armstrong Now will bring them in intimate proximity to his legacy and give them the opportunity to learn, to interpret and to respond in ways that reflect the issues of today and their own artistic values.”