Earlier this month, a musical milestone turned 50. On August 16, 1967, Louis Armstrong recorded his cover of “What A Wonderful World,” and with it he contributed one of the most enduring classics in jazz music. In celebration of its half-century anniversary, New York’s Louis Armstrong House Museum will pay tribute through an exhibit featuring rare artifacts from the original recording sessions.
“50 Years of ‘What A Wonderful World'” is running now through October and includes photos from the original 1967 recording date, albums, sheet music, and news clippings. All of these remarkable artifacts are pulled from the expansive Research Collections of the Museum, the world’s largest archive for any jazz musician.
As the exhibit dives into the song’s origins, it also reminds us of the song’s place in today’s climate. Armstrong recorded the original version of “What a Wonderful World” during a time when people fought for civil rights and protested the Vietnam War, mirroring the social change and political marches of America today. In the face of this anxiety-ridden tumult and complexity, Armstrong chose the radical act of producing a song based on simplicity and peace. In a statement, Research Collections Ricky Riccardi remarked on the song’s timeless quality and its ability to remain poignant so many decades later. “The song has racked up millions of views on YouTube and regularly leads the jazz categories on streaming music such as Spotify and Apple Music. Other artists have covered ‘What a Wonderful World,’ but Louis Armstrong’s cover remains the most popular and memorable version.”
Armstrong sang his timeless hope for peace with the children of his adopted New York neighborhood (Corona, Queens), in mind. It is this same neighborhood that now houses the museum celebrating his musical message in the icon’s former home.
“There’s so much in ‘Wonderful World’ that brings me back to my neighborhood where I live in Corona, New York,” Armstrong said in 1968. “…I saw three generations come up on that block. And they’re all with their children, grandchildren, they come back to see Uncle Satchmo and Aunt Lucille. That’s why I can say, ‘I hear babies cry/ I watch them grow/ they’ll learn much more/ then I’ll never know.’ And I can look at all them kids’s faces. And I got pictures of them when they was five, six and seven years old. So when they hand me this ‘Wonderful World,’ I didn’t look no further, that was it.”
Across the street from the museum is the future side of the new Louis Armstrong House Museum Education Center, which will open in the Fall of 2019.