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Blake Pontchartrain: Louis Armstrong's statue

Elizabeth Catlett designs the statue that now sits in Armstrong Park

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Hey Blake,

With all the talk of statues lately, I was curious about the history of the one honoring Louis Armstrong in Armstrong Park? Who is the artist and when was it erected?

Dear reader,

  The effort to raise money for the statue of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong began in 1969 and intensified after Armstrong's death in 1971. One of the chief fundraisers, jazz historian Floyd Levin of Los Angeles, credited music legend Danny Barker with the idea and quoted Barker as saying, "Here we have all these statues of generals who lost a lot of battles and nothing for this musician who won all of his."

  The statue shows a smiling Satchmo holding a trumpet in one hand and a handkerchief in the other. It's the work of African-American artist Elizabeth Catlett, a native of Chicago and chair of the Art Department at Dillard University in the 1940s. Catlett cast the one-ton, 11-foot-tall bronze statue in Mexico, where she lived for many years and died in 2012.

  The statue cost $30,000 and was unveiled in Jackson Square on July 4, 1976 as part of celebrations of the nation's bicentennial that year. The date was chosen because it also was long believed to be Armstrong's birthday, though later research showed he was born on Aug. 4, 1901. A States-Item article said the Armstrong statue lost its trumpet during shipping, but local artists Lin Emery, A.W. Klein and Gerold Dyer rushed to repair the damage in time for the unveiling.

  The idea to name a 31-acre section of Congo Square (then called Beauregard Square) in honor of Armstrong first was proposed in 1972. There were construction delays and years of controversy over the scale of the project, which opened in 1980. The statue was unveiled in the new park by Armstrong's widow, Lucille, at a ceremony on April 15, 1980, coinciding with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

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