Hurricane Ida levels Jewish family home where Louis Armstrong found inspiration
A youthful Armstrong spent time with the Karnofsky family at their home and tailor shop, where they mentored him, bought his first trumpet and instilled a love of matzah
JTA — Hurricane Ida flattened the New Orleans home where a youthful Louis Armstrong spent time with a Jewish immigrant family who mentored him.
CNN reported Monday that the Category-4 storm destroyed the brick structure on South Rampart Street where the Karnofsky family lived and ran a tailor shop at the turn of the 20th century.
Starting at about age 5, Armstrong was friends with the five Karnofsky sons and the family would have him over for meals, leading to Armstrong’s lifelong love of matzah. His first job was blowing the tin whistle on the family’s coal and junk wagon, alerting potential customers. A musicologist has said that the whistle was Armstrong’s first instrument.
Armstrong regarded the residence as a “second home,” according to the National Park Service, which listed the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Karnofsky patriarch bought Armstrong’s first trumpet, with the repayment being Armstrong would ride on the wagon for a year and blow the whistle. The famed jazz musician was reputed to wear a Magen David and have a mezuzah on his door, said the musicologist, John Baron.
“The Karnofskys were a tremendous warm influence in his life,” Baron said in 1999.
“Louis said it was the Karnofskys that instilled the love of singing in his heart,” jazz historian and retired photojournalist John McCusker said, according to WWL-TV.
One of the Karnofsky sons, Morris, opened the first jazz record store in New Orleans and was a lifelong friend of Armstrong, who became a seminal figure in modern American music.
Armstrong would visit Morris Music when he returned to New Orleans after moving away.
A cluster of other sites that were integral to jazz’s early history in the city were also situated on South Rampart Street.
In 2019, a real estate firm that specializes in historic preservation was under contract to restore a part of the block that included the Karnofsky shop, The Times Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. The company’s CEO floated the idea of repurposing the building as a nightclub or jazz lounge.
But when daylight came Monday morning, all that was left was a pile of bricks and other remnants of the historic site.
Agencies contributed to this report.