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‘Little Satchmo,’ a doc on Louis Armstrong’s secret child, comes to ABFF

The film that tells the story of the late trumpeter’s only biological offspring will stream during the American Black Film Festival, starting Friday.

Sharon Preston-Folta is a senior account executive at WUSF Public Media in Tampa, Florida. She also happens to be the daughter of the late Louis Armstrong. That latter revelation was not public knowledge during the musician’s lifetime, but now her story is the subject of Little Satchmo, a documentary that’s playing at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF).

The documentary chronicles the life of the late, great trumpet player and Black American music icon, told through the eyes of his one and only offspring. Preston-Folta is the product of Armstrong and his longtime mistress Lucille “Sweets” Preston, a vaudeville dancer from Harlem, New York.

Sharon Preston-Folta (YouTube screengrab)

Since Armstrong was married to his fourth wife, Lucille Wilson, from the time Preston-Folta was born until his death, he chose not to disclose the existence of his daughter publicly. However, as evident in the trailer, he acknowledged her in private, sending video recordings and letters asking about her.

Preston-Folta, who worked in advertising sales and marketing for companies like ABC/Disney, CBS Radio, and Ennis Communications for over 30 years, didn’t come forward about being Armstrong’s daughter until 2012, as reported by The Telegraph.

“Publicly fawning over a child fathered with his mistress wasn’t exactly an option for Louis Armstrong,” Preston-Folta says during the trailer. “He always wanted to be a father, but we had to keep it all secret.”

Bandleader, vocalist, and trumpeter, Armstrong was a beloved musician who was one of the first African-American celebrities who enjoyed widespread crossover appeal.

Aside from recording American music standards like “What a Wonderful World,” “Stompin’ At The Savoy” and “Hello, Dolly,” he was a global ambassador for American jazz music. Armstrong’s public reputation was impeccable and he collaborated with other star musicians of the time including Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Louis Armstrong in London on Oct. 12, 1960 (Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

So, having a child from an extramarital affair that lasted for more than 20 years would not have been good for his public image.

The documentary, narrated by Preston-Folta, is adapted from her 2012 memoir, Little Satchmo: Living In the Shadow Of My Father, Louis Daniel Armstrong, and its release corresponds with the 50th anniversary of Armstrong’s death. Armstrong died of a heart attack in 1971 in New York City after experiencing numerous health problems. He was 69.

Not only does she provide more insight on her famous father through her unique vantage point, but Preston-Folta also shares her own journey as well, revealing the warm relationship between her and Armstrong that will resonate with those who have grown up in fatherless households as well as those seeking to better understand their familial heritage.

Sharon Preston-Folta overlooks “Family Portrait” collage created by her father, Louis Armstrong. Image: Little Satchmo
Documentary LLC

Little Satchmo was directed by John Alexander, the filmmaker behind the award-winning documentary This is Love. It was produced by JC Guest and Lea Umberge and will screen at the 25th annual American Black Film Festival.

The festival began on Nov. 3 and runs until Nov. 28. It is the second year in a row that ABFF is taking place 100% online, forced to move from its usual home base in Miami, Florida due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch the Little Satchmo below.

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