“Merry Christmas, everybody — this is Satchmo,” intoned the raspy voice in a living room in Corona, Queens, where holiday ornaments were being hung with care on Monday afternoon.
One of those doing the hanging, Ricky Riccardi, pointed out, “You notice that he said, ‘Merry Christmas, everybody,’ and there’s nobody there — Louis made these tapes to be played post-mortem.”
Mr. Riccardi, the archivist at the Louis Armstrong House Museum, where all this was taking place, was referring to the many personal recordings that Armstrong made here in this two-story house on 107th Avenue in Corona, where he and his wife, Lucille, moved in 1943.
This month, the museum is offering holiday tours featuring rare clips from Armstrong’s Christmas tapes, which include the jazzman celebrating the holiday at home, as well as his quirky compilations of seasonal songs that Mr. Riccardi called “Louis’s holiday mix-tapes,” with artists that include Elvis, Mantovani and Mitch Miller.
Another ornament hanger at the museum, David Reese, the museum’s curator, pressed a button on the wall, and here came Armstrong’s voice wafting through the room again, this time introducing a recording of “White Christmas” by the jazz singer Al Hibbler. Another push of a button brought the sound of Armstrong putting on a Nat “King” Cole record: “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth.” On his tape, Armstrong sang along with the record by adding rhythmic punctuations (“Uh-huh!”) and ad-libs (“Sing it, Nat!”).
Armstrong lived in his Corona house here until his death in 1971, and Mrs. Armstrong until her death in 1983. But the house is so meticulously preserved that it feels as if they’ve just stepped out to buy some egg nog. The holiday tour is meant to give visitors the feel of what it was like being home for Christmas with the Armstrongs, said the museum’s director, Michael Cogswell, as his staff decorated.
They had hung Mrs. Armstrong’s boughs of artificial pine in the windows, and put her miniature Christmas tree in the dining room. These items were found in the Armstrong attic, along with an artificial Christmas tree that was in too poor condition to use. A similar one was brought in, which was now being decorated in the front window with ornaments that belonged to the Armstrongs’ beloved next-door neighbor, Selma Heraldo, who died last December and left her house to the museum.
Another audio clip played of Armstrong on “The Mike Douglas Show” talking about a photograph of the Armstrongs celebrating Christmas while on tour in Japan.
Armstrong, who famously spent part of his childhood in a New Orleans orphanage, told his wife on their first Christmas together that he had never had his own Christmas tree as a boy. After that, Mrs. Armstrong was adamant about decorating the house for the holidays. If the Armstrongs were on tour for the holidays, they would break out decorations and celebrate Christmas on the road, Mr. Riccardi said.
Armstrong makes clear his love for Christmas throughout his home recordings, including a two-hour-long Christmas tape that he made shortly after acquiring his first portable reel-to-reel tape player in 1950, Mr. Riccardi said. The museum archives of his home recordings, which includes roughly 750 tapes, each about two hours long, is available for listening by appointment at the library at Queens College.
Armstrong kept two reel-to-reel recorders in his den, where he also meticulously cataloged his tapes in longhand on loose leaf paper. The press of a wall button again brought his voice into the room, singing a novelty number called, “Zat You, Santa Claus?” with lines like “I can see old/ Santa in the keyhole.”
On a shelf was a 45-r.p.m. record of Armstrong reciting “The Night Before Christmas,” which was recorded several months before he died and was the last issued recording in his lifetime, Mr. Riccardi said, with more than a million copies printed. At the end of the famous poem, Armstrong wishes, “A Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”
But then Armstrong, naturally, adds a line of his own: “A very good night – that goes for Satchmo too.”