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Louis And The Love of A Jewish Family

by Sim Lee  
2/13/2019 / Family

"I had a long time admiration for the Jewish people. Especially with their long time of courage, taking so much abuse for so long. I was only seven years old, but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the white folks were handing to that poor Jewish family." ... Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

Born in the "Battlefield" neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901, Louis was a product of the times. Just a short walk from the west side of the infamous "Storyville" District (basis for the American version of the song "House of the Rising Sun"), the Battlefield neighborhood was the toughest one in all the city and the most dangerous.

Had Louis not been taken in at age seven by a Jewish family named Karnofsky, he probably would have become one of those who "spend your lives in sin and misery", as the song goes, and been sent either to prison in due time, or to the graveyard (Cemetary Number One) even sooner.

The Karnofskys owned a delivery service and young Louis worked with the delivery wagon, where he would blow a horn along side of the horse-drawn wagon to attract more customers. He worked out quite well as he had a big grin and those flashing eyes that everyone liked and welcomed, which was no small thing for a young person of color in the white neighborhoods where they delivered all manner of goods.

Treated like one of the family, "Cousin Louis" received the love, decent mother and father figures, and a sense of family he had never had while growing up in an area of prostitution cribs and brothels along "James Alley" into which he was born. His new "foster" family even gave Louis the money to buy his first cornet. He loved to blow a horn.

Louis got into a bit of a scrape with the police and served 2 years in a boy's reformatory for the careless discharge of a firearm. On a constant diet of bread and sorghum and working under extreme conditions and discipline, Louis kept himself centered upon the principles that his Jewish "foster" family had instilled in him. Even until the day of his death, he wore a Star of David pendant on a chain around his neck.

Louis began making a living in making music with his cornet and made his mark in America's only original music art form: Jazz. From a kid who walked along side of the Karnofsky's horse-drawn delivery wagon blowing on a tin horn, to the great Jazz Man who performed at Carnegie Hall, Louis Armstrong never forgot what this Jewish family did for him. They had taught him love and of what belonging to a family truly meant.

They also taught him their Scriptures and even to speak Yiddish fluently, which he did for all of his life. "Satchmo" had to been the only young person of color to speak Yiddish in the New Orleans in his day!

I hope you enjoyed this story of a boy from the Battlefields who went on to greatness with the help and personal formation of the loving family of immigrant Russian Jews who took him in as one of their own. May they serve as a lesson to all of us in how to love all others.

*"Looking back on Louis Armstrong" - KOPJIK INTERNATIONAL

**Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1952) by Louis Armstrong


Duriing his last days, Louis disregarded his doctor's instructions not to play any more engagements because of his failing heart, and played once more, suffering a heart attack within a week. He died four months later from another heart attack in New York City.

Just like the verse from one of Louis's favorite New Orleans Blues Ballads, St. James Infirmary - "Twelve men going to the graveyard, and eleven coming back", Louis Armstrong's honorary pallbearers walking back from the Flushing Cemetary of Queens, NYC were::

Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson, and David Frost, with Peggy Lee singing the Lord's Prayer.*

*Louis Armstrong - Wikipedia

Sim Lee is a retired NE Iowan who loves all of God's creatures.

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