Few songs have held our country’s popular imagination as tightly or for as long as Louis Armstrong’s 1968 ballad “What a Wonderful World,” even as it was released in the midst of the Vietnam War, when plenty of Americans did not necessarily agree with the titular sentiment. Perhaps it’s our dogged optimism? Because the song itself is a study in overcoming adversity: Due to lack of label support, the track was something of a bust on its first release in the U.S., but “Wonderful World” hung in there for 20 years before a surprising pop resurrection in 1988, re-emerging onto the Billboard charts as a single off the Good Morning, Vietnam soundtrack.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of “Wonderful World,” our optimism bubbles up again—despite…well, despite it all—for a celebration of the legendary tune and artist. The Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, has teamed up with the Queens Library and the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College to mark the event with a selection of free concerts showcasing the wide-ranging impact of Armstrong’s music.
On Friday, June 29, Armstrong scholar and Birdland regular David Ostwald will perform a 6 p.m. set of Satchmo classics with his combo, the Louis Armstrong Eternity Band, at Peninsula Library in Rockaway Beach (a sunset stroll on the beach afterward?). Following up the next day, the Queens Library hosts two afternoon performances with an eye toward the spirit of Armstrong’s music transcending American culture: Cuban traditional combo Conjunto Guantanamo will give a concert at Forest Hills Library at 3 p.m., and Indian guitarist Prasanna will play at Flushing Library at 4 p.m.
The golden anniversary of “Wonderful World” concludes with a major outdoor show at Flushing Meadows Park on July 21, featuring A-list Queens rapper and Vice TV star Action Bronson, backed by the versatile brass octet The Soul Rebels. Get to the Flushing Meadows show early and you can visit the nearby Louis Armstrong House Museum to learn more about the man himself.
Why You Should Go: If we ever needed a moment of brightness featuring performers from around our wonderful world, this is it.