Growing up Jewish – Yoshio and Keiko Remember Louis

Joel Schlemowitz emailed me:
“Hi Peter,

“I wanted to let you know that I’ve made the link to my short film “Louis Armstrong Obon” (Yoshio Toyama) public. I announced this on 4th August for Yoshio’s birthday.

“Cheers! Joel”


Yoshio and Keiko Toyama

Joel’s film:
It depicts Joel’s short documentary portrait of Japanese jazz musicians Yoshio and Keiko Toyama, seen through their annual visit to the grave of Louis Armstrong at Flushing Cemetery in Queens, NY.


Louise Armstrong
A grandson of slaves, born in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans known as the
“Back of  Town.”

Louis father abandoned the family when he was just an infant. His mother became a prostitute and the Louis and his sister had to live with their grandmother. Early in life he proved to be gifted for music and with three other kids he sang in the streets of New Orleans. His first gains were the coins that were thrown to them. A Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who had immigrated from Lithuania to the USA had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home. Given work in their business, he remained in this Jewish family’s home where, for the first time in his life he was treated with kindness and tenderness. When he went to bed Mrs. Karnofsky taught him a Russian Lullaby that he would sing with her.  Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs.

Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family. The Karnofskys gave him money to buy his first musical instrument as was the custom in the Jewish families. They sincerely admired his musical talent. Later, when he became a professional musician and composer, he used these Jewish melodies in compositions, such as St. James Infirmary and Go Down Moses.

The little black boy grew up and wrote a book about this Jewish family who had adopted him in 1907.  In memory of this family and until the end of his life, he wore a Star of David and said that in this family he had learned “how to live real life and determination.”

You might recognize his name.  This little boy was called Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong  proudly spoke fluent Yiddish!

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  1. Peter Butler says:

    Truly wonderful, Joel. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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