‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues’ Provides Truer, Fuller Picture Of An Entertainment Icon – Contenders Documentary

“My only sin is on my skin.” This rhyme is among the lyrics in Fats Waller’s 1929 song “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue,” a poignant and haunting account of the experience of being a black man in America.

Jazz genius and entertainer Louis Armstrong recorded a version of that song. More importantly, he lived through it.

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Armstrong’s private feelings about racism and the disrespect he faced in his life are explored in an Apple Original Films documentary. Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues, directed by Sacha Jenkins. The film draws from every recording the jazz trumpeter has made, including conversations with friends where he talks openly about his experiences.

“He was a techie, you might say, and he had a reel-to-reel recorder that he took everywhere, but he also had a lot of exposure in his recreation room at home,” Jenkins said during an appearance on Deadline’s Contenders Film. : Documentary awards-season event. “He taped a conversation with himself and his wife, a friend, a conversation with himself. And it’s revealing. “

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Jenkins added, “Media back then wasn’t what it is today. There [wasn’t] YouTube or these platforms artists can say whatever they want and do whatever they want. He was very forward-thinking in knowing that one day there would be great importance to his ideas, and the media [of his time] it wouldn’t really give him a platform to really say what he thought. So, it’s a wonderful wealth of material that is the backbone, the backbone of the film. “

Through the use of these recordings, the documentary dispels the myth that somehow Armstrong was so happy that he didn’t feel hurt by open racism in the South, or extreme racism elsewhere in the world, including Hollywood, where Armstrong made many films. .

“In many ways, the way Louis has been portrayed in the media has been as a happy guy with a lot of energy and fun and hanging out with a lot of white people and playing in front of white people,” said producer Julie Anderson. “And what people don’t understand is that Louis really understood where he was. He existed somewhere between the world of Blacks and whites. And this is the ’40s and ’50s, surviving into the ’30s, Jim Crow.”

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The rope bound Armstrong walked, not by choice but by necessity, goes inside Black & Blues.

“Louis was one of the first black artists to start playing around the world … in front of white — mostly white audiences, not small things,” Anderson said. “He had a lot of responsibility to be in that position as the first, and he knew that he had to behave in a certain way to make everything work. And I think that because of this one-dimensional presentation of Louis, people thought that he did not care about the Black community, which is not true at all. He knew exactly where he came from.”

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In another telling example, the film shows that since Armstrong became famous in the US, he insisted that whenever he stayed in a hotel he would be entitled to a night’s accommodation in that area. Without this rider, he would not be allowed to rest in the place he had entertained.

“At the time, no one was looking at this incident as an attack on human rights, but in fact, it was,” said Jenkins. “But the big thing is that 50 years have passed and some time, some breathing space, to really think about who he was and what he meant, what he means.”

Check back Wednesday for a video panel.

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