If you’re exploring the French Quarter and looking for a bit more history, take a stroll through Louis Armstrong Park. Thanks to a city beautification project completed in 2011, the park has mostly overcome its bad reputation (not that long ago it wasn’t a very welcoming place at all). Open daily and free to the public, Armstrong Park makes for an interesting daytime detour while sightseeing in the French Quarter.
Situated on the former site of the 18th century Fort St. Ferdinand, Armstrong Park was established in 1980 adjacent to and encompassing part of historic Congo Square. Named in honor of local jazz legend Louis Armstrong, the park serves as a reminder of the city’s musical roots.
It was in this neighborhood, officially known as the Faubourg Tremé, that jazz music was born, and in the southwest corner of the park, just to the left of the main entrance, you’ll see what remains of Congo Square. This tree-shaded square, somewhat larger in its day and located just outside of the city wall (rampart), served as a place where enslaved Africans could freely gather on Sundays to play music, sing, dance, and worship. The tribal beats and rhythms often heard at these gatherings blended with European brass music to form the roots of American jazz, leading, as some people say, to the development of modern popular music.
In celebration of its musical heritage, the park hosts Jazz in the Park, a concert series open free to the public. It’s also the site of the city’s Municipal Auditorium and the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts.
Scattered throughout and in some places clustered together are several sculptural works and monuments. These include:
An impressive 10’ 5” bronze statue of Louis Armstrong
and a modern sculpture of Mahalia Jackson, both created by sculptor Elizabeth Catlett,
Congo Square, a beautiful sculptural relief by Nigerian-born artist Adéwálé Adénlé, located at the edge of the square near a sprawling Live Oak tree;
A unique ‘motion’ statue, created by artist Kimberly Dummons, of ‘king of the cornet’ and founding father of jazz, Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden;
French Opera House, an abstract work of polished metal balls and mosaic glass tiles, created by sculptor Steve Kline;
Brass Band, a grouping of bronze statues,
and Chief Tootie, a striking image of Mardi Gras Indian Allison ‘Big Chief Tootie’ Montana, both by local artist Sheleen Jones- Adénlé.