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Arts / Culture

Louis Armstrong's Daughter To Appear at Tampa Jazz Club Show

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Courtesy The New York Times
Sharon Preston-Folta

Sharon Preston-Folta grew up knowing that jazz great Louis Armstrong was her father.

When she was little, she and her mom rode the tour bus with him. And since she didn't see him often, it was "a celebration" when her dad was around.

Over the years, he imparted fatherly advice, such as the time they were seated on the tour bus and overheard passersby noting it was Louis Armstrong's bus, when one of them said, "he's just another n-----." Preston-Folta said in response to that, Armstrong told her, "to some people that is all we will ever be."

There were visits over the years, and she and her mother were supported by Armstrong. 

But when she was on the cusp of her teenage years, she remembers an explosive fight between her mother, Lucille and Louis Armstrong. She says it may have been triggered by Preston-Folta's desire to stay for a second Marvin Gaye concert, when she and her parents had already seen one show.

The argument was called a "spat," but later, Preston-Folta realized the damage in her parents' relationship was much deeper than that.

And after Louis Armstrong's death, his fourth wife, who had been signing support checks for Preston-Folta over the years, denied her existence in legal documents, cutting her out of the will, and erasing the hope Preston-Folta had for public acknowledgement that she was who she knew she was all along.

But Preston-Folta had letters from her father, Louis Armstrong - lots of them.

There are amorous letters to her mother, and letters promising to pay for Sharon Preston-Folta's college, plus an early letter detailing Louis Armstrong's fears over Lucille's pregnancy with Preston-Folta, because in his words, "I've never had a baby before, you dig?"

These letters, which have been authenticated, helped Preston-Folta tell the story in her book, "Little Satchmo: Living in the Shadow of my father, Louis Daniel Armstrong," which she co-wrote with Denene Millner.

And it also helped her garner what she wanted all along: the truth of who her father was.

On Sunday, April 19th, Sharon Preston-Folta will appear at  Tampa Jazz Club/HCC-Ybor Performing Arts Series Celebration of the life of Louis Armstrong, featuring trumpeter James Suggs. The program begins at 3 p.m. and you can find details by clicking here.

Preson-Folta now works in sales at WUSF Public Media.