Louis Armstrong Was Taken in By a Jewish Family as a Boy-Truth!
Summary of eRumor:
An email claims that legendary musician Louis Armstrong was taken in by a Jewish family from Lithuania that encouraged him to play music and bought his first instrument.
Most of these claims about Louis Armstrong’s childhood are true.
Ken Burns dug up most of the details for his documentary, “Jazz,” and they have often been repeated since in aired in 2001.
Louis Armstrong’s parents separated shortly after his birth, and neither played a big role in his life. He lived with his grandmother and dropped out of school in the fifth grade to work, according to his biography, “Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life.”
The Karnofskys, a family of Jewish immigrants, hired Louis Armstrong as a delivery boy, but they soon took him under their wing, according to an account by Stanley Karnow, a distant relative of the Karnofskys:
“They took him under their wing, fed him a hot meal every evening, lent him five dollars to buy his first cornet. And because they were Jewish, as a gesture of gratitude for their generosity Armstrong wore a Star of David around his neck for the rest of his life. Thus they inadvertently contributed to American culture — and earned at least a measure of immortality.”
Still, there’s no record that the Karnofskys ever adopted Louis Armstrong as their child, as the eRumor claims. Stanley Karnow said that his family felt “somehow related” to Armstrong, but that doesn’t mean they adopted him.
And it’s not clear exactly how much time Louis Armstrong spent with the family, either. He was sent to a home for boys after he got in trouble for shooting a gun in the air on New Years Eve 1912, according to Biography.com:
“There, he received musical instruction on the cornet and fell in love with music. In 1914, the home released him, and he immediately began dreaming of a life making music. While he still had to work odd jobs selling newspapers and hauling coal to the city’s famed red-light district, Armstrong began earning a reputation as a fine blues player. One of the greatest cornet players in town, Joe ‘King’ Oliver, began acting as a mentor to the young Armstrong, showing him pointers on the horn and occasionally using him as a sub.”
Most of the claims made in this email are true, but a few details may be slightly off the mark.