The Gift of Armstrong's Legacy: Michael Cogswell (far left) gathers with jazz great Jon Faddis (second from left), and college and community officials on the steps of Louis Armstrong’s Corona residence at the October 15, 2003 ribbon-cutting ceremony to open the house as a museum. Queensborough President Helen Marshall (in pink jacket) helped cut the ribbon. At far right is Queens College President James L. Muyskens.
When Michael Cogswell came to Queens College in 1991 to create the Louis Armstrong Archives, he found a treasure trove of American jazz history: 72 cartons of memorabilia, including 5,000 photographs, 85 scrapbooks, 650 home recordings, and five gold-plated trumpets.
It took Cogswell three years to sort through it all before making it available to scholars, music writers, and television producers looking for material on the jazz legend.
Cogswell’s immersion in all things Armstrong has paid dividends for musicologists and jazz lovers around the world. Armstrong’s widow, Lucille, willed the Armstrong home to the city of New York, which then entered into a lease agreement with Queens College to develop the Louis Armstrong House Museum. After a $2 million renovation, it opened in 2003, and is open six days a week.
That space, however, has grown cramped as the public flocked to the modest frame house at 34-56 107th Street in Corona, Queens, that Armstrong called home for decades.
“We hosted receptions in the basement of the house, but it could only hold up to 40 people,” says Cogswell. “We stopped doing them because more people would show up than we could accommodate.”
Cogswell is now preparing for construction of the museum’s Visitors Center, a $15 million project across the street from the Armstrong House Museum. The new building will include a performance space for lectures, concerts, and film screenings; multi-media exhibits; a museum store; and space for the Armstrong archives, currently housed in Rosenthal Library.
“I’ve had the privilege of working here for 18 years, and I haven’t hit bottom yet,” says Cogswell. “Louis Armstrong is endlessly interesting. He was a trumpet player, vocalist, actor, and author. But for all these accomplishments, what inspires me is Louis Armstrong, the person. He was a beautiful guy. He was humble. He was generous. He was a genius.”
Book everyone should read: Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, by Louis Armstrong
Favorite musician: Louis Armstrong
Surprising fact: Before entering graduate school, Cogswell spent twelve years as a professional musician, playing the saxophone, flute, and clarinet.
Learn more at http://www.louisarmstronghouse.org/