Louis Armstrong received his first formal music training at the Colored Waifs Home for boys, a regrettably named juvenile detention facility where a court sent him after he fired a pistol in the air on New Year’s Eve of 1912. From January 1913 to June 1914, under the instructor Peter Davis, he learned the cornet and bugle here.
This well-known story has expanded in recent years thanks to writer James Karst, who found that Armstrong had also been sent to the Home as a nine-year-old in 1910 after police found him and other boys “pilfering” scrap metal from the remains of a burned building. As a child, he scavenged and delivered coal to earn money to help support his family.
A description of the Home appears in a report edited by the venerable sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois in 1909. The author notes that it is run by “two very estimable Christian persons, who are doing their best to reform the boys in their charge. The City of New Orleans also provides the Home with a competent teacher, and Sunday-school instruction is given by the Catholics as well as the Protestants. At the time I visited the Home there were 63 boys who were committed therein.”
Armstrong eventually became leader of the Home’s brass band, which played at parades, parties, and public events. When he paraded through his Rampart Street neighborhood, the folks who knew him were so proud of Armstrong that they took up a collection to pay for new uniforms for the band.
The facility, like Armstrong’s birthplace and childhood home, was torn down in the mid-1900s. The Colored Waifs Home evolved into the Milne Boys Home in Gentilly, where in 2017 the city opened the NORD Milne NOLA FOR LIFE Center, a multi-purpose center including programming aimed at reducing gun violence among young people.
From author John McCusker: "Louis Armstrong's New Orleans," a five-minute look at Satchmo's formative years and the state of landmarks associated with him. associated with him.