Has footage resurfaced of a 14-year-old Louis Armstrong?
Has footage resurfaced of a 14-year-old Louis Armstrong? © Getty  /  Haywood Magee

Has footage resurfaced of a 14-year-old Louis Armstrong?

Fans and admirers of Louis Armstrong are in quite a state, not because of an unreleased album or a new photo of the jazz musician, but rather a short and simple piece of film, worn over the years. But in this short film appears a young kid that could well be the future king of jazz at the age of 14.

It's a short film lasting only eight seconds. A street in New-Orleans, dozens of pedestrians walking in front of the camera, when suddenly appears a young paperboy walks into the frame, firstly with his back turned before turning to look at the cameraman. This was enough for the numerous specialists of Louis Armstrong to spark a debate. This adolescent, with his papers under his arm, could well be the legendary trumpet player. In 1915, the young Armstrong was only fourteen years old and recently released from a local reform school. Upon his release, he decided to stay in New-Orleans, earning money wherever he could, in particular by selling newspapers. According to a local census, there were very few black paperboys at the time in New-Orleans, and Louis Armstrong was one of them, giving serious credibility to those who believe to have recognised the jazz musician. 

Science and history to the rescue

Serious fans of Louis Armstrong even went so far as to analyse the front page of the newspaper seen in the short clip, possibly the New Orleans Item. On the day the footage was filmed, the main news discussed a train robbery, though unfortunately archives are lacking in more precise information, making it impossible to pinpoint the exact day in question. On 29 September 1915, a violent hurricane passed through New-Orleans, leaving countless  homes and buildings in ruins, making the headlines for the following days. It would appear, in the footage, as if everything was normal: it is therefore likely that the film was shot before the natural disaster. However, the specialists are in agreement with regards to the location: the corner of Canal Street and Dauphine Street, one of the busiest spots in town.

Kurt Luther, assistant professor of computer science at Virginia Tech University, conducted a variety of morphological comparisons of the young boy and pictures of Louis Armstrong of the same time, revealing several noteworthy similarities. Terry Teachout, a biographer of Louis Armstrong, assures that the boy's facial features are very close to those of Armstrong in a photo taken at the reform school. However, Michael White, music professor at the Xavier University of Louisiana, is somewhat hesitant: "Sometimes there's a resemblance [with pictures of the same period], and sometimes not." Countless specialists of Armstrong and New-Orleans music have weighed in on the short clip, but Ricky Riccardi, curator at the Louis-Armstrong museum, has summarised the situation succinctly: "We will never know for sure if this is Louis Armstrong". In any case, the short film certainly sparked the imagination of the jazz musician's most passionate fans, even those who believed to know everything about the legendary trumpet player.