Lent 2020, Day 3: Satchmo & Scripture.

A young Louis Armstrong. (Image source)

For Black History Month this year, Z chose to do a report on Louis Armstrong. While I’m still unsure as to why she picked the Jazz legend, I thrillingly approved and got her a copy of Who Was Louis Armstrong?, which, indeed, taught her who Louis Armstrong was.

In an attempt to block any inadvertent (or not-so-inadvertent) plagiarism, I skimmed through the book and came across this passage:

One New Year’s Eve, when he was about twelve, Louis and his friends were out singing. Louis brought along a pistol someone had left at his mother’s place. One of the boys shot off a cap gun. But Louis shot off his real gun. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but it was a very dangerous thing to do.

A policeman on duty that night heard the noise. He grabbed Louis from behind. Louis’s friends all ran away. Louis cried and begged the policeman to let him go. But he wouldn’t; the policeman was as strict as Grandma Josephine. Louis was taken to Juvenile Court and charged with firing a gun in a public place. The judge was strict, too. He sent Louis to live at the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys.

McDonough, Yona Zeldis. Who Was Louis Armstrong? (Who Was?) (p. 21)

That’s right: Louis Armstrong, trumpeter extraordinaire, the internationally renowned musician and singer, star of stage and screen, was a juvenile offender. At the age most American kids today are focused on the morass that is middle school, Louis was sentenced to juvie. I suppose he would fit a stereotype, too: Black boy living in the inner city being raised by a single, working mom, often being supervised by his elderly grandmother who was strict but not omnipresent. And after a stupid and dangerous mistake and a run-in with the cops, he found himself in front of a judge, sentenced to a home away from all he knew.

Of course, we know how things turned out for Louis. In fact, while at juvie, Louis, who already had a love for music, really learned how to play. One of his teachers there mentored him and taught him to play a variety of instruments.

Later, Louis wrote of these years: “My whole [musical] success goes back to the time I was arrested… Because then I had to quit running around and began to learn something. Most of all, I began to learn music.”

Who Was Louis Armstrong? (Who Was?) (p. 26)

The Psalmist reminds us, “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68: 5-6a,b). We must always strive to see those who are imprisoned as the children of God that they are. I’ll be returning to the subject of the incarcerated later during this series, as I’ve been feeling very passionate about their lives lately.

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