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Louis Armstrong Wore Star of David to Honor Jewish Family That Supported Him

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Louis Armstrong, the iconic jazz musician, known as "Satchmo," graced the world with his musical brilliance over five decades. Despite his Baptist roots, he consistently wore a Star of David necklace, emblematic of Judaism. The origins of this choice lie in a powerful connection with the Karnofsky family, a Jewish family that played a pivotal role in shaping Armstrong's early life.

Born in 1901 in a racially divided New Orleans, Armstrong faced the challenges of segregation from the outset. His father left when he was born, and his early years were marked by poverty and struggle. Yet, a ray of hope emerged when, at the age of seven, he crossed the tracks into a Jewish neighborhood. The Karnofskys, Lithuanian immigrants bound by family ties, welcomed him into their lives.

In a memoir titled Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La, the Year of 1907, Armstrong recalled the struggles faced by the Karnofskys and drew parallels between the discrimination endured by Jews and African Americans. Working for them as a young child, Louis became a familiar face on their junk-collecting wagon, learning the ropes of survival and perseverance.

Morris Karnofsky's gift of a tin horn to Louis marked a turning point. It sparked Armstrong's musical journey, laying the foundation for his future as a trumpeter, vocalist, and songwriter. The Karnofskys' support wasn't just professional, they embraced Louis as family, fondly calling him "Cousin Louis" and inviting him for dinners to make sure he never went hungry.

Even during Armstrong's challenging stint at the Colored Waifs Home at age 11, where he faced tough discipline, music became his solace. The home had a band, and Louis, eventually appointed bandleader at thirteen, continued honing his musical talents.

The Karnofskys' influence extended beyond Louis's formative years. When he spotted a cornet in a pawn shop, Morris lent him money, enabling him to pursue his passion. Louis's gratitude for this kindness was expressed through a lifetime of admiration for the Jewish people.

Joe Glaser, Louis's Jewish manager and close friend, later gifted him the Star of David, solidifying the bond between Armstrong and the Jewish community. In his final memoir while hospitalized in 1969, Armstrong reflected on the Karnofskys' impact, crediting them for his musical innovation and praising the broader Jewish community for treating him with respect.

Armstrong's connection with the Karnofskys transcended racial and cultural boundaries, teaching him the values of hard work, family solidarity, and overcoming prejudice. Throughout his illustrious career, he continued to appreciate the Jewish people, their warmth, kindness, and the enduring lessons learned from them.

In the wake of Hurricane Ida in 2021, the Karnofskys' home, a symbol of the nurturing environment that influenced Louis Armstrong, was tragically lost, but the legacy of their impact on the jazz legend endures in the annals of music history.

---This commentary is shared courtesy of The Yahweh Project. To learn more visit


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