FACT CHECK: No, This Is Not A Picture Of Louis Armstrong As A Child

Brad Sylvester | Fact Check Reporter

An image shared on Facebook purportedly shows famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong as a child.

Verdict: Misleading

The boy pictured is not Armstrong. The post also misstates facts about Armstrong’s relationship with the Karnofsky family.

Fact Check:

Armstrong, a trumpeter and vocalist, is widely considered one of the greatest American jazz musicians of all time, according to BBC News. His success is due in part to the Karnofsky family, a Jewish family that employed him at a young age which helped him to earn enough money to buy his first horn, according to the Louis Armstrong House Museum’s website.

An image on Facebook shows a photo of a young black child smiling. Text accompanying the photo claims the boy is Armstrong. (RELATED: Did F. Scott Fitzgerald Pen This Letter While Quarantined During The Spanish Influenza?) 

“A Jewish family named Karnofsky, who immigrated from Lithuania to the United States, took pity on a 7-year-old boy and brought him to their home,” reads the post. It goes on to allege that Armstrong would often sleep at their house, learned to speak Yiddish fluently and was eventually adopted by the family.

The photo does not, however, show Armstrong. Through a reverse image search, Check Your Fact found the photo published on the Library of Congress website which states the photograph was taken in 1930 or 1931. “African American boy holding a piece of fruit received through the Red Cross drought relief work in Mississippi,” the title of the image of the Library of Congress website reads.

While the boy isn’t identified in the photo, Armstrong was born in 1901, meaning he would be around 30 years old at the time the photo was taken, making it impossible for him to be the subject.

Several of the claims in the text of the Facebook post are also incorrect. For instance, Check Your Fact found no mention of Armstrong living at the family’s home, speaking Yiddish or being adopted by the Karnofsky family in a sample of the collection of his writing published in the book “Louis Armstrong, In His Own Word.” Nor was any such information mentioned in his biography on the Louis Armstrong House Museum’s website.

Ricky Riccardi, the director of research collections for the Louis Armstrong House Museum, further confirmed the inaccuracies of the Facebook post.

“Young Armstrong was employed by the Karnofsky family and spent time at their home eating their ‘pure’ food, which he simply called ‘the best,’ but he was never adopted by them,” Riccardi said in an email to Check Your Fact.

Riccardi went on to say that “Louis never mentions sleeping over the Karnofsky home” and that he “did not speak fluent Yiddish, or any Yiddish for that matter.” Among other things, Riccardi noted that the two Armstrong compositions the post alleges were influenced by Jewish melodies, “St. James’s Hospital” and “Go Down Moses,” were not composed by Armstrong. Riccardi posted about the inaccurate claims on his Facebook page in June.

The post’s claim that Armstrong wrote a book about the Karnofsky family also appears to be misleading. While he did compose a 77-page hand-written memoir from his deathbed titled, “Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La, the Year of 1907,” the memoir was never published in the form of a book, according to an article published in Music and Politics. (RELATED: Viral Instagram Post Claims MLK Didn’t Die From A Gunshot) 

“Armstrong did not technically write a ‘book’ about his experiences with the Karnofsky family, though he might have planned it that way,” explained Riccardi. “His unfinished document is comprised of 77 handwritten pages and was eventually published in ‘Louis Armstrong in His Own Words‘ in 1999.”

While most of the post is inaccurate, Armstrong did often wear a Star of David pendant around his neck as a tribute to the Karnofsky family, according to History.com. He also said that he learned a lot about “real life and determination” while with the family, according to the book, “Louis Armstrong: An Extravagant Life.”

Brad Sylvester

Fact Check Reporter
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