Louis Armstrong and the Power of Art

Bthun sends a tale by Charles L. Black, Jr., on the magic of Louis Armstrong.
[O]ne never entirely knows the ways of the power of art. I know a little of the framework, a little of the rational components. But when these are exhausted, art remains inexhaustible, unknowable....

He was the first genius I had ever seen. That may be a structurable part of the process that led me to the Brown case. The moment of first being, and knowing oneself to be, in the presence of genius, is a solemn moment; it is perhaps the moment of final and indelible perception of man’s utter transcendence of all else created. It is impossible to overstate the significance of a sixteen-year-old Southern boy’s seeing genius, for the first time, in a black.... [G]enius—fine control over total power, all height and depth, forever and ever? It had simply never entered my mind, for confirming or denying in conjecture, that I would see this for the first time in a black man. You don’t get over that.
I remarked to Bthun that I thought Dr. Black was remarkable to be able to make the adjustment. Think of how many people who have first encountered genius in a Jew, and remained as anti-Semitic as ever they were. Worse, perhaps, since they now had cause to fear as well as to despise the object of their hatred.

Dr. Black sounds like he never really despised anyone, and the recognition thus could work its magic. The power of art is something we often discuss here, but art is also like a mustard seed. It seeks the fertile ground.

Here is the recording Dr. Black mentions. You can judge for yourself how well he judged it.

By the way, Bthun noted that today is Louis Armstrong's birthday. It is, in fact, his eleventy-first -- to borrow a phrase from another artist who has done a world of good.


Texan99 said...

And the horrible thing is not only the possibility that they might remain anti-Semitic (bad enough, certainly), but that they somehow remain deaf and blind to the genius they have been fortunate enough to witness. If it comes in the wrong package, they can't afford to let it reach them, so their experience is impoverished.

douglas said...

One thing that strikes me about Armstrong, and which modern performers should take note of, is that he doesn't go out of his way to demonstrate his extraordinary talent- no out of place flourishes or show-off-y bits. He leaves you thinking every extra bit he added was just right- precisely what was needed and no more. More often than not, genius is knowing when to stop, not the being able to add more (which is just raw talent).

Another amazing thing about him was the pure joy in his singing voice, which you could never say was good by classical standards, but because it was entirely true to his personality, and so joyful, it touches you. A genius with two instruments.

Gringo said...

There was only one Louis Armstrong, as a friend of mine once said.