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Historic Karnofsky Shop In New Orleans Collapses During Hurricane Ida

NOEL KING, HOST:

427 South Rampart St. in New Orleans is one of the many buildings that were destroyed by Hurricane Ida. It wasn't in great condition even before the storm. But it was very significant to that city's history. Here's NPR's Andrew Limbong.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: In 1969, Louis Armstrong was sick in a hospital bed. And he heard his doctor hum a familiar tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OYFN PRIPETCHIK")

TZIMMES: (Singing in Yiddish).

RICKY RICCARDI: And he said, oh, my goodness. You know, I haven't heard that song since I was a kid. And he grabbed the pen and started writing the story.

LIMBONG: That's Ricky Riccardi, director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum in New York. Riccardi says Armstrong started writing about the Karnofsky's, a family that was integral to his becoming a jazz legend.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S "RUSSIAN LULLABY")

LIMBONG: Armstrong wrote that the song the doctor sang reminded him of one Mrs. Karnofsky sang as she rocked her son to sleep. See, Armstrong spent a lot of time with the Karnofskys. They hired him as a 7-year-old.

RICCARDI: He had two jobs with the Karnofsky family. He would ride the junk wagon by day. And they would go around collecting junk.

LIMBONG: He had a little toy horn he would blow on to get people's attention.

RICCARDI: Some people say it was Louis' kind of first experience actually blowing a horn.

LIMBONG: And that night...

RICCARDI: The evening shift would be delivering coal to the prostitutes around New Orleans.

LIMBONG: In between, he'd have dinner and talk and just be with the family, who lived at 427 South Rampart St. Armstrong wrote that these years were formative for him, as he found warmth and comfort from this family, but also saw how Jews were treated in America. He wrote, when I reached the age of 11, I began to realize that it was the Jewish family who instilled in me singing from the heart. They encouraged me to carry on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LOUIS ARMSTRONG'S "RUSSIAN LULLABY")

LIMBONG: They even helped him get his first horn.

RICCARDI: He spotted a cornet in a pawn shop window and kind of drooled over it. And so the Karnofskys sensed this in him. And they loaned him an advance so Armstrong could purchase it.

LIMBONG: Riccardi got to see the Karnofsky house back in 2019.

RICCARDI: Oh, it was old. I mean, it just - that whole little block there with the Little Gem Saloon and the Eagle Saloon, you know, that whole South Rampart Street, you know, that was the history of jazz right there. And it looked like it was untouched.

LIMBONG: For better or for worse. The building was purchased that same year by Cleveland-based real estate firm GBX Group. Not much was done to preserve it. Now it's just another bit of New Orleans jazz history crumbled, needing to be cleaned up.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.
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