The Amazing Story of “Big Cheeks” Everyone Should Know!

I am 60 years old.  I’ve been a champion of civil rights my entire life.  I’ve been married to a Jew for 34 years and raised all three of my children in the Jewish faith.  I am disappointed I never knew this story before a friend sent it to me.  At a time when there is so much to be alarmed by in America it is refreshing to learn of this story.  Please pass it on to everyone you know!

Image result for louis armstrong star david

A boy was born the grandson of slaves in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans known as the “Back of Town”.  His father abandoned the family when the child was an infant.  His mother became a prostitute and the boy 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.

Image result for louis armstrong child

His first gains were coins that were thrown to them.   A Jewish family, Karnofsky, who had immigrated from Lithuania to the USA had pity for the 7-year-old boy and brought him into their home.  Initially giving ‘work’ in the house, to feed this hungry child.  He remained and slept 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. Karnovsky sang him a Russian lullaby.  He would sing it with her.  Later, he learned to sing and play several Russian and Jewish songs.

Image result for louis armstrong karnofsky

Over time, this boy became the adopted son of this family.   As was the custom in the Jewish families, the Karnofskys gave him money to buy his first musical instrument  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 learned “how to live real life and determination.”

You might recognize his name.  This little boy was: Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.  Louis Armstrong proudly spoke fluent Yiddish!………And “Satchmo” is Yiddish for “Big Cheeks”!!!

11 thoughts on “The Amazing Story of “Big Cheeks” Everyone Should Know!

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  1. Wow. I knew nothing of his background. Thank you for sharing that.
    I used to love to watch him perform on tv. There always seemed to be so much emotion behind his music.
    What a wonderful story. He was an inspiration to so many people.
    Have to admit it made me teary eyed.
    So many wonderful singers from “way back when”. Pattie Page, Kate Smith, etc. The list is endless.


    1. Hi Beaglemom

      I always look forward to your comments. I used to read them on IM but I don’t comment there anymore.
      Have a good day.


  2. I am soon to be 62, this has been one of my favorite songs my entire life. Sadly I never read about Mr. Armstrongs youth or beginnings. What a story and song. Thank you Malia for sharing this important story the song means more to me today than ever.


      1. Me Too Malia, I have hope for our society and humanity every time I hear him sing this song. It should be played on evening news every night. We have to heal this country somehow. Stay positive and believe.


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