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Armstrong museum jazzed over donation

Louis Armstrong House Museum Archivist Ricky Riccardi stands with Selma Heraldo, a longtime neighbor and friend of Armstrong's, near one of the jazz great's trumpets in the museum's collection space. Photo by Connor Adams Sheets
TimesLedger Newspapers

The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona has received a treasure trove of recordings and memorabilia honoring the late jazz legend from Swedish Armstrong aficionado Gösta Hägglöf, who died in 2009 and bequeathed his entire collection of Armstrong items to the museum.

Museum Director Michael Cogswell flew to Sweden in March to secure the rare bounty to be sent to New York. He did not realize at the time that Hägglöf had painstakingly gathered and organized thousands of recordings, videos, posters and other collectibles that would take 4 1/2 days to organize and pack into 72 shipping containers.

The boxes arrived July 7 and the museum’s archivist, Ricky Riccardi, said during a Sept. 22 event unveiling the collection that in the short time he has spent going through it, he has found many gems already. He expects to spend two years cataloguing the items.

“He passed away March 6, 2009, and he left us with his collection. If I had to sum it up in three words, it would be ‘recordings, recordings, recordings.’ Hundreds, thousands of recordings, extremely rare recordings, many I’ve never heard,” Riccardi said. “I’ve only just hit the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know what else I’m going to find.”

Hägglöf dedicated most of his life to Armstrong and his legacy after hearing his song “In the Shade of the Apple Tree” in 1949. Several years before his death. Hägglöf wrote in a letter to Riccardi that after listening to that classic tune, “my life made a sudden turn, and since then Louis has been my inspiration in everything I do.”

In 2004, Hägglöf, a Swedish bank worker by day who never married marriage in order to dedicate his life to his musical idol, visited New York to meet Cogswell and other Armstrong fanatics and to tour sites relevant to the jazz great.

“We did everything Louis Armstrong in Queens,” Cogswell recalled. “We spent a couple of days at the house, we went to Louis Armstrong High School and we went to Flushing Cemetery, where Gösta put flowers on his grave.”

After his death, the museum learned that it would be the benefactor of every piece of Armstrong lore Gösta owned. Queens College, which runs the museum, already had the world’s largest collection of items dedicated to a single jazz musician before Gösta’s massive donation.

“They opened his will and found out that Gösta Hägglöf had left his entire Louis Armstrong collection to the Louis Armstrong House, so that was very touching,” Cogswell said.

Highlights from the Hägglöf collection — described by Riccardi as one of the most comprehensive in the world — are slated to be permanently on display at the museum for attendees to view as they are rediscovered by Riccardi and selected by museum staff for prominent placement.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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