- [on cassette tape] This is Louis Satchmo Armstrong, ready to send a beautiful letter to a fine young lady by the name of Miss Sweets Preston.
- My mother was in love with the most famous Black man in the world and carrying his child.
There were even rumors he was impotent.
The truth is, I am Louis Armstrong's daughter.
[ambient music] - (SINGING) La-da-da, yes.
- Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz.
From his southern roots to music ambassador of the world, his influence is still with us.
Unknown to the public, he fathered one child in his life, a daughter named Sharon.
He called her his little Satchmo.
This is her story.
[cassette clicks] - [on cassette tapeÑ: This is Louis Satchmo Armstrong, getting ready to send a bit of a letter to a fine young lady by the name of Miss Sweets Preston.
And I know Sharon's a good girl.
She better be.
Did you hear what I said?
You better be a very good girl, because the present that I have for you, I won't give it to you.
I mean, if you miss one time being good, I ain't gonna give it to you.
[laughs] Tough daddy, tough man, because I come up the hard way, and I ain't let you get away with nothing.
Of course, I shouldn't say that.
But I'm just kidding, baby.
- My name is Sharon Preston-Folta, and I am Louis Armstrong's daughter, his only child.
I have waited my entire lifetime to say that publicly out loud, because up until this very moment, I wasn't allowed to admit to anyone other than my closest family and friends that the blood of a legend runs through my veins.
[piano music] - And now, the number that became our theme song when it's sleepy time down South.
- On June 24, 1955, Louis Armstrong became a father.
Lucille Preston became a single mom.
And I, Sharon Louis Preston, became invisible.
That's the way it was, the way it had to be.
[trumpet playing] - Satchmo was married, traveling in the rare air of upper white society, the kind of Black man who put whites at ease by defying racial attitudes of the time.
Under that context, publicly fawning over a child fathered with his mistress wasn't exactly an option for Louis Armstrong.
[trumpet playing] - It's widely believed he was childless when he died in 1971.
There were even rumors he was impotent.
- The truth is, he always wanted to be a father.
And I think he even thought he was a good one.
But we had to keep it all secret.
[gentle piano music] - For more than 50 years, I swallowed that bitter secret whole.
Some days it went down easy.
Other days, I had to choke it down.
Every faded memory, every hushed conversation, every missed moment settling like rocks in the pit of my stomach.
[jazz music playing] - Armstrong's views and knowledge of fatherhood were shaped by a childhood without one.
He rarely talked or wrote about his own father, whom he once described as a sharp man who, quote, "did not have time to teach me anything, because he was too busy chasing the chippies."
[jazz music playing] - My father was raised by his grandmother, Josephine Armstrong, in a rough New Orleans neighborhood known as The Battlefield, a place my father described as full of church people, gamblers, hustlers, cheap pimps, thieves, prostitutes, and lots of children.
♪ - The city was such an amalgam of cultures and influences, Louis, short, chubby, barefoot, and charming, was a mischievous waif who became the face of it.
- Music was everywhere.
And he eventually followed it up the Mississippi, playing for three years with a riverboat dance band, which fully formed him as a master at a young age.
- But without a father, Louis was brought up with no male presence in his life, no real example of how to lead a family or be a man in the world.
He adopted the attitude, keep a wife and a stable of sweethearts to á*á*á*á*á*.
But always remember, the trumpet is your one and only true love.
[trumpet playing] - Louis was married four times, had countless one-nighters.
And numerous women enjoyed his largesse.
One of his favorites had a clandestine affair with him that stretched 20 years across performances, tour dates, and continents.
- That woman is my mother, Lucille "Sweets" Preston.
[jazz music playing] - She was a small-town Harlem girl.
She loved to dance.
She would make up routines in a room and pretend she was on one of Harlem's chorus lines she'd seen up close.
By 1940, she was working in clubs in her native Harlem and on the road, where she met Luther "Slim" Preston, a lanky, sky tall dancer with wiry legs and mesmerizing rhythm.
They called themselves Slim and Sweets.
They were loved and in love.
They toured on the Chitlin' Circuit, and under manager Joe Glaser's care, opened for some of the greatest performers of the day, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, the Nicholas Brothers, Coles and Atkins, and of course, Louis Armstrong.
[trumpet playing] - My father adored Slim and Sweets.
My mother fell in love with Louis while performing in the same nightclubs.
She never acted on those feelings, however, because she was married to Slim.
My mother tells me that she never really knew how much everyone loved and respected Slim until he passed away in 1950.
Family, friends, fellow dancers, entertainers, and people in the industry filled Slim and Sweets' apartment for the repast.
Among them was Louis Armstrong.
I am told that he crossed the living room, took my mother's hand, and boldly proclaimed, I'm supposed to take care of you.
He added, I'll be back tomorrow.
Those fateful words marked the beginning of my parents' secret love affair of more than two decades.
Mom opened herself up to Louis's love.
She fell hard.
So, it seems, did Louis.
[jazz music playing] ♪ ♪ - [Louis Armstrong on tape] Hello, Sweets.
It's your baby.
I'm sitting here all by myself.
All the cats are all gone to bed.
Of course, they had a night out.
But I had to work all day long in the studio.
The main thing I want to tell you, I'm coming home soon.
We got about three more dates, and homeward bound.
I sure would be glad to see you and the little shiver.
- How's my little pregnant mother this AM?
I will do like the farmer did the potato.
I will plant you now and dig you later.
So be a sweet girl for your daddy and don't worry about a thing.
- Yeah, this is the letter written at 2:00 in the morning, where he's thinking about where they would be at 2:00 in the morning.
Yeah, that's the way I'll state it.
So he's pretty descriptive.
[gentle piano music] - Her blind love and allegiance had devastating consequences for Sweets, a woman who was hopelessly, tragically in love with a man who she never seemed to realize would never be her own.
And here are photos of Mom, the three of us, really.
In this picture, Mom is pregnant with me, sitting there with a photo of Dad, me inside.
So it's the only photo where I could say I'm actually in there with my parents.
"Hmm, I hadn't heard the good news concerning my little Satchmo being on its way for two months.
If you have a baby for me, you must have no fear at all.
The baby must have my name right away.
Oh, I'm so proud right now.
I forgot to ask you, would you marry me?
[jazz music playing] She was in love with the most famous Black man in the world and carrying his child.
And he loved her back, but not enough to claim her publicly, not enough to tell the world that he had a daughter, and her name is Sharon Louise.
Louise, after Louis.
"You must remember, I've never had a baby before.
P.S., I never had a baby before, you dig?
Now, don't say that I'm carried away over it all, because I am.
With all my love and more besides, your future husband, Old Satchmo, Louis Armstrong."
My father made a lot of promises to my mother.
She tucked them in her pockets, in her dresser drawers, in little boxes, in her heart, in her mind, in her soul.
[MUSIC - LOUIS ARMSTRONG, "LAZY RIVER"] - (SINGING) Up the lazy river where the old mill runs.
- Whenever he was in town, he was there with us, his family.
And in the summers, he took us on tour with him as his family.
He was saving up for a house to keep with us, his family.
And so my mom kept Louis Armstrong's secret, followed his very specific instructions on how to lie low, until the two of them could go public.
- (SINGING "LAZY RIVER"]) ♪ Throw away your troubles.
♪ Dream a dream of me.
♪ Dream a dream of me.
- Sweets would travel far and wide to meet Louis.
His valet, Doc Pugh, served as a go-between, channeling all communications whenever she needed money or just wanted to get a letter to him.
[jazz music playing] - It was the music that deluded me into thinking my father was around more than he actually was.
I can remember many times waking up in the middle of the night and hearing my father's music playing on the stereo downstairs.
I'd tiptoe down the steps and peek into the darkened den, where my mother would be sitting alone with her glass of what we called her Sherry Herring and the sound of my father's records.
[jazz music playing] Sometimes, I heard her crying.
Other times, when the record ended and the needle crackled against the wax, the silence would take over.
It was deafening.
I'd turn around and go back upstairs, pretending I'd never heard a thing.
[jazz music playing] I would see him on TV, in a newspaper, or a magazine, off carrying his duties as a US ambassador.
- Our ambassador of jazz.
- Louis Satchmo Armstrong, whose golden trumpet has preached the gospel of New Orleans jazz on every continent.
- We clung to those moments, every one of them, grateful for what we did have of him.
[MUSIC - "SUZY CUTE"] - (SINGING) ♪ Suzy plays, Suzy swings.
♪ And you can get her all these things.
♪ ♪ Little baby Suzy Cute.
♪ Oh yes.
♪ That's my baby, Suzy Cute.
- And this is some of his creative artwork.
And it's a collage.
It's got my father's face in here three times, Mom in here.
But what struck me was, at the bottom, he wrote in his famous green pen ink signatures, family portrait.
- Girls, Suzy Cute needs a mummy.
Suzy Cute needs you.
- Louis adored the idea of being a daddy.
He dangled that elation and that divorce talk in front of Sweets' face like a carrot.
And she bit, because she adored him.
She fell hard for the sweet talker with the horn and that Louisiana charm.
- A sweet talker, he most certainly was.
- [Louis Armstrong on tape] But I want to know how you're feeling.
And quite naturally, I'm sure you're otherwise doing all right.
My man's taking care everything.
And wish you all the happiness.
And I know Sharon's a good girl.
[gently piano music] - It's the car I remember, that long, black, shiny limousine floating down the street, chin in my tiny hand, face sometimes pressed to the window, sometimes aimed at whatever show happened to be on my uncle's black and white television set.
I'd imagine that somewhere in the back of that big old car, my father sat, dressed in his elegant suit and fine shoes, his horn never far away, waiting to fold mother and me into his massive arms, excited to see us, happy.
When we knew he was on his way, it was magic.
My mother would start preparations from almost the second the phone handset connected with its cradle.
My father would call or write her with the details of his schedules the clubs where he'd be performing, how long he'd be in town, when he'd be able to visit us.
And she'd head straight to Macy's, John Wanamaker's, or Gimbels, to round up a new, colorful, fancy pinafore, lace ankle socks, and shiny patent leather Mary Jane shoes just for me.
The night before his arrival would be spent in the kitchen, squatting between my mother's knees as she pulled the hot comb and wads of DAX grease through my thick curls.
I looked pretty, elegant.
My mother made sure of it.
I was, after all, Louis Armstrong's daughter, his little Satchmo.
[MUSIC - "I WANT A LITTLE GIRL"] - (SINGING) ♪ I want a little girl to love a lot.
♪ ♪ I'd give anything.
- And then came the waiting.
[ticking] - My mother, always by the window or the telephone, alternately looking for the car and listening for the phone call that would alert her to my father's exact arrival.
[MUSIC - "I WANT A LITTLE GIRL"] - (SINGING) ♪ I want a little girl.
♪ - And it absolutely delighted me to fall into his embrace and feel his lips on my cheek and smell his scent.
He'd take a firm look at me and smile that 1,000-watt smile and hand me a sock full of coins he'd saved up just for me while he toured.
That feeling, that closeness I felt to my father, would be fleeting, would last about as long as it took for him to pull away from me, then take my mother by the hand and lead her into the bedroom, where they would stay secluded for the remainder of his short visits.
And then I would plop down on the floor and dump out all the coins and run my fingers across the pennies and the nickels and the occasional coin from some distant land my father had traveled to, completely unaware of how much money I'd poured onto the floor, but excited and grateful anyway, because my daddy had bought them special, just for me.
"Give Sharon a big kiss.
Tell her, if she's forgotten old Satchmo, I don't blame her.
I feel she's too young to understand.
Regardless, I love her, and I am saving money, especially for her college education.
Whatever college she wishes to go to, I got her covered, because as long as old Satchmo lives, her happiness is assured."
- Louis Armstrong said he would take care of Sweets and their baby, his family.
And she believed him, because the checks were coming.
- [scatting] - But I wanted so much more than his money.
I wanted, needed him.
- [scatting] - Chances were always that if he had a performance, Sweets knew that the Lucille who bore his name could show up at any moment, looking for the best seat in the house.
Sweets could accept Louis's invitations to the club where he played, only if she came with her beard, Sharon's uncle.
Every move they made had to be stealth.
- My father couldn't acknowledge her presence in any grand way or tell anyone other than his closest associates what he was consistently telling my mother I want for you.
I want for you to be my wife.
It's you and me.
"I want you to know that I love you and Sharon dearly, and from the bottom of my heart, and always will.
The only things missing is that I am starving to see you and be with you more moments than you may think.
Whether you want me or not, you will have to marry me.
I pray to God every day for that moment."
[jazz music playing] - This in particular, my uncle couldn't stand.
The sneaking around is what he used to call it.
I called it simply fun.
There was nothing like being a five-year-old in the dressing room of one of my father's gigs, or especially on the tour bus with him and his band.
It was something to put my little hand into that massive palm of my father's and climb the stairs up into that huge automobile.
[jazz music playing] - The whole world, it seemed, would show up with pen and paper in hand, waiting for the bus doors to open and my father to tumble down the stairs, his laughter and those big old bright eyes delighting anyone who happened to be in the vicinity.
We just pulled into our stop for the night when two young white kids walked by.
One said, very excitedly, look, this is Louis Armstrong's bus.
The other sneered.
He's just another nigger.
I'll never forget the look on my father's face, how deeply it sliced and seared.
My father turned to me and said, in this world, no matter how big you get, you'll always be a nigger.
Flawed as it was, that was one of the few instances in which Louis spoke wisdom to me as a father, as if he had something he needed desperately to share with me, daddy to daughter.
Louis Armstrong had adoring fans who spanned the globe in cultures, backgrounds, languages, experiences, and races.
Though he faced mounting criticism for not hitching himself fully and vocally to the Civil Rights movement, my father cared deeply about the conditions of his people.
[MUSIC - "WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN"] - (SINGING) ♪ Yes I want to be in that number ♪ ♪ when the saints go marching in.
♪ ♪ - He was not there to potty train me or wean me from a bottle or outstretch his arms to me as I took my first step.
He wasn't there to teach me how to tie my shoes or cut my meat with a sharp blade or ride a two-wheeler with the wind in my face.
But this, this is one of those lessons he'd left for me, that there will always be people who feel that way, the way those kids felt.
And that's reality.
[jazz music playing] - While other children made the most of what Harlem had to offer, my mother, fully aware that her sole job was to take care of me, made a point of taking me outside the neighborhood to experience much more.
[jazz music playing] - We'd get on the 5th Avenue bus around the corner from our building and ride downtown to Central Park, alternating between grabbing the rings on the colorful, legendary carousel and prancing in the grass on the grounds of one of the many park playgrounds.
♪ - I was very fortunate to have all the material trappings of being raised upper middle class, private school, roller skates, ice skates, and private music lessons.
I got a new bike every other year, the latest toys at Christmas and birthdays.
And I had a fabulous collection of Barbie dolls.
The money my father provided Mom and me gave us the opportunity to live a life like my classmates and people that we went to church with.
Other times, we'd go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and marvel at all of the great works of the masters.
And we'd visit the Museum of Natural History.
Or at the behest of my father, Joe Glaser would send my mother tickets to Broadway plays.
Those afternoons were heaven, full of fantasy and majesty, going around and around on that carousel and feeling free and seeing everyone smiling and happy and getting dressed up in my finest, and mother too, to take in a play.
This wasn't what people I grew up around did.
This, I gather, is what my father held onto as evidence that he was a good father to me, the fact that he was a sound provider.
He always emphasized that my future was on his mind.
He paid for private school, and until the day he died, saved for my college education.
[band playing] ♪ - Come on, folks.
- And this really gives me a sense of the iconic stature of my father.
A trip to Hawaii, taking a publicity photo for Pan Am.
And on that trip, they created a special menu for him and his crew.
And this is sent to my mother.
Honey, dig this á*á*á*á*.
My mother's rent was covered by the many checks Dad had sent us through Joe Glaser.
And eventually, he even saved up enough to have Glaser buy us a house in Mount Vernon, New York.
It was a great house with a huge indoor wraparound porch.
We had three floors with two bedrooms upstairs, a living room, dining room, kitchen, and a den on the main level, and a full basement.
We also had a big backyard, a side yard, and a two car garage.
But we never had a car, because mom didn't drive.
And even though friends, company, and family visited us in that big house in Mount Vernon, it was still very lonely.
"Impress upon Sister Sharon, she has her own home paid for.
I travel all over the world, and I don't see these things.
Tell Sharon she is the most blessed child in the world.
The only thing she will probably miss is the lovely, juicy kisses she gives to her daddy Satchmo.
And believe me, that little chick can kiss.
I love them and miss them.
So tell Sharon, if she ever forgets Satch, she's nowhere."
Our years in Mount Vernon turned out to be the darkest of our lives.
By the time we moved there in 1962, my parents were in the 12th year of their affair.
Mom was putting up with the situation, but she was getting increasingly tired of being the woman on the side and was starting to pressure my father about marriage.
[MUSIC - "SOMETIMES I FEEL LIKE A MOTHERLESS CHILD"] - (SINGING) ♪ Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.
♪ ♪ Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.
♪ ♪ Sometimes I feel-- - I was always a little chubby as a toddler.
But I had become very overweight as a young child, weighing in at 135 pounds by the time I was eight.
The teasing was relentless.
Food and television, they were my comforters.
Often, I was left alone in my silence.
- Panel, as you know, one question at a time, in turn, moving clockwise.
We'll begin-- - The same was true of my mother, who seemed to find solace only in the rhythm of my father's horn.
It was when we were in Mount Vernon that dad made his most famous pop recordings, "Hello Dolly" and "What a Wonderful World."
[MUSIC - "WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD"] - (SINGING) ♪ What a wonderful world.
- Louis Satchmo Armstrong.
- [scatting] ♪ - Each of these things made me happy, my mom too.
But one of the hardest and most confusing parts of my childhood was viewing all the press about my father and never seeing anything about my mother and me.
He cared about us, sure.
But clearly, we were outsiders in his world.
I can vividly recall a visit he made to our home in Mount Vernon, where I watched him like a hawk, trying to commit to memory his daily habits.
- I recall on a recent trip to England, Louis, you kind of shattered protocol.
- I remember him standing in the kitchen, listening intently to the radio.
It's important you keep up with current events, he boomed.
I nodded, grateful for even that small morsel of advice from my dad.
[MUSIC - "NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I'VE SEEN"] - (SINGING) ♪ Nobody knows my sorrow.
- Soon though, I was asking questions about my father, each one flying at my mother at a rapid clip.
When was he going to live with us?
Why weren't we traveling with him in the summers anymore?
Why was my name Preston instead of Armstrong?
Mom's answers were always evasive.
I'd be left to my own assumptions, my own fantasies.
[MUSIC - "LITTLE GIRL BLUE"] - (SINGING) ♪ Little girl blue.
- They played out in my closet, a walk-in affair with a small window overlooking the side of our house and driveway.
I'd sit in that closet for hours, marveling at the squirrels dancing from one tree to the next.
I wondered what my father was doing and when he'd be coming back to us.
It was in that closet that I stared at a picture my mom had of him with a little blonde child.
They were smiling at each other, and she was hugging him.
And he was hugging her back, a vision that haunted me, because I'd never known such affection from Louis Armstrong.
I didn't and still don't have any pictures of us together.
Well, this is a great photo of him smiling and, you know, hugging a young fan.
But I would see this, and I would see many pictures like this, hugging fans and looking similar to this, and would just wish it were me.
So it would make me a little sad.
But I just saw a lot of it and was pretty used to it.
When he wasn't there, it was his shirt that brought me to life, a Hawaiian style print he left over at our house after one of his rare visits.
It was huge and blue gray with pale yellow flowers and sandy leaves.
It had his smell on it, the smell I later realized was a mix of an earthy aftershave, cigarettes, cologne, and weed.
I hoarded it in my closet, my secret place.
And occasionally, I'd dance with it or put it on or sway to his music, or just hug it like he did that little girl in the picture.
[MUSIC - "UNCLE SATCHMO'S LULLABY"] - (SINGING) ♪ Lu la lu la lu, lu la lu la ly.
♪ ♪ Uncle Satchmo's lullaby.
- [Louis Armstrong on tape] I just thought I'd send this tune to you, because I just finished recording it with a little 11-year-old child, German girl of course, by the name of Gabriele.
And she's smart as a whip.
She remind me so much of Sharon, that I thought I'd just send you this tune, "Uncle Satchmo's Lullaby."
isn't it beautiful?
[girl singing in German] - (Louis singing) ♪ And I say good night.
How do you like my German, baby?
[speaking German] [girl singing in German] - I'm the only child Louis Armstrong ever had.
He knew it, my mother knew it, and I know it too.
- [scatting] - Though the feeling was fleeting, in those moments, I felt close to him, like he really was there.
But he wasn't.
And by age 10, after all the questions, after all the secrets, I finally found out why.
- Here's Johnny.
[applause] - I was, as usual, perched in front of the television set, alone in my thoughts while I waited for my father to sit in Johnny Carson's chair on "The Tonight Show."
This was a big deal for me, a big deal for any African American who thought it exciting to see a Black person on TV.
But obviously, more so for me, because, well, that person was my dad.
- One of the most extraordinary forces in all of music is with us tonight, Louis Armstrong.
[applause] - He was so alive in that chair, sitting there with his humongous personality, talking and being so very cavalier in his conversation, which centered on his doings with Lucille.
- And my wife Lucille and I, we [inaudible].. - A feeling of sheer horror washed over me like a tsunami.
- So he asks me, he says, have you any children?
I said, well, no Daddy.
But we're still willing.
[laughter] [cheering, applause] - I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
Each word morphed into a siren, blaring this one true thing.
The Lucille my father was speaking about was not my mother.
The house was not our house.
- Did he ask you what your religion was?
- The life which he was laughing and bragging about to the world, to me, was not my own, not ours.
- My wife is-- she's Catholic.
- As fast as my feet could carry me, I rushed down the stairs from my room to where my mother sat in the den staring at the TV.
- So when he told me he's going to pray for me-- - Mom, I demanded, what is he talking about?
Who is Lucille?
What house in Corona?
He says his wife Lucille lives in Corona, but I know he's not talking about you.
She won't give him a divorce, she insisted.
He loves us, and he would be with us if he could just get a divorce.
But he has to be with her.
Stunned by her confirmation, I backed out of the den, stumbled back upstairs and numbly cast myself down onto my bed.
The pillow made quick work of muffling my cries, catching my tears.
[MUSIC - "UNCLE SATCHMO'S LULLABY"] - ♪ lu la lu la ly lullaby.
♪ - This is when I was 10.
This is really when life changed a lot for me.
And I really learned another part about my family.
This is when I learned that my father was married to Lucille Armstrong.
But this is my confirmation, so it was a good day.
"Dear Sharon, your daddy Satchmo love you very much.
I think of you every day.
May the Lord bless."
My father had invited my mother and me to see him perform at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City.
We all went out to check out Marvin Gaye, who was performing at a nearby club.
I, a fan of the Motown sound, and an adolescent who, for the first time, had a girl crush on a sexy soul singer, was in love with Marvin Gaye.
My father had a problem with this.
My father actually got upset when I asked to see Gaye's second show.
He didn't yell or overreact to me.
But he wasn't his usual easygoing self, which is the side of him I always saw.
Suddenly, my mother who was visibly upset, pulled me over to the side and said, you made your father mad.
You should have never asked to see the second show.
You should have never asked him.
The last thing I remember hearing was my mother shouting to my father, when are you going to marry me?
My father yelled back, never.
I stood there, bleary-eyed, confused, heartbroken.
We cut our vacation short and left the next day.
All of us were shaken to the core.
And my mother, with a 12-year-old daughter to care for, was forced, finally, to let go of her happily ever after with Louis Armstrong fantasy, and realized that the other woman in his life, the Lucille who wore his wedding ring, had a hold on the part of my father's heart that my mother could never ever have.
[trumpet playing] - While the other Lucille carefully and meticulously enjoyed the life that we'd hoped to have with Louis Armstrong, my mother and I lived in their shadow.
"P.S., if you're ready to bury the hatchet, I am, huh?
Well, dear, it's been a long time no see.
But don't think for once that I don't think about you every living day.
Of course, I take it for granted that you're OK in every way.
That's my consolation, anyway.
Give my little daughter a big kiss for her daddy.
Tell her I love her much, much, much, which means a whole lots.
I love you too, darling.
Of course, you already knows that.
How could you think otherwise after all these years?
Now, you just stop your pouting and give your Daddy Satch a big smile with the nicest thought that you ever had in your mind.
Love aplenty, Satch, Louis Armstrong."
[MUSIC - "CABARET"] - (SINGING) ♪ blow your horn, start celebrating.
♪ ♪ Right this way.
♪ Your table's waiting.
- It was a year before Sweets would take Louis's calls and let him into their home.
Not long after that, he became very ill and spent months in a hospital for heart and kidney failure.
Louis wanted nothing more than to play.
He refused doctor's orders to cut back on his schedule.
To Louis, putting down his instrument meant he was giving in to the illness, to death.
He needed to blow that horn, and so he did.
"Dear Sweets and Sharon, don't you all get the least idea I don't love y'all's dirty drawers, because I do.
Mr. Glaser has his instructions, keep Sweets and Sharon happy.
You have nothing to squawk about.
The only thing missing is me.
Huh, that can come later, just like and when it's supposed to be.
Sharon may not realize how and what I mean to her and doing for her.
But I am sure, as she matures, she'll dig Pops as the man who will be loving her until the day he dies or she dies.
That's sincerity and from the heart stuff.
God knows I love you both madly.
From your boy, Louis Armstrong."
In that letter was $700 cash, $500 of which he sent at my mother's direction for a new accordion for me.
And the rest, he added so that mom could buy something nice for herself.
The last time we saw him was at one of his New York performances.
Mom and I went backstage for a short visit in his dressing room.
We were among many guests, and our brief hello was anything but private and personal, though he did ask me about school and how I was progressing with my music lessons.
We were just part of the entourage, nothing special.
- Louis Armstrong died this morning at his home in New York in his sleep.
He was 71.
And although he had been quite sick earlier this year-- - Mom jumped up and screamed.
Just like that, my father was gone from our lives forever.
- Armstrong was one of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz, a legendary entertainer.
- My mother eventually folded me in her embrace.
But we offered little comfort to each other.
- Louis Armstrong's death was promptly reported in Moscow.
- We'd spend the rest of the evening staring at the television until we fell asleep.
- (SINGING) ♪ Refuse to shine.
- Armstrong was laid out in the New York State Armory.
More than 25,000 fans got to say goodbye to him.
But his family was forced to stay away.
Sharon's aunt was one of the many mourners and served as a silent representative for the family.
- (SINGING) ♪ When the saints.
- Days later, they received a stack of saving bonds that he had been keeping for Sharon's college education, 25 bonds and $1,000 each.
- He didn't live with us, true.
And by the time he died, we hadn't physically seen him for two years.
But while he was no more, his presence still felt constant, surreal, because my mother wouldn't let him go, because I had so many unanswered questions, because the world loved Louis Armstrong and his music so much that his fans all but defined him, completely unaware of his complexities, his perfect imperfections.
[MUSIC - "NOBODY KNOWS THE TROUBLE I'VE SEEN"] - (SINGING) ♪ Glory, ♪ hallelujah.
- I can remember, when I was 10 years old, walking away from the Jones Beach Theater with my father, mother, and uncle.
My cousin, who traveled with us during the summers, at 16, became a single mother.
My father turned to me and said, I want to let you know, if it ever happens to you, don't worry about it.
I'll be there for you.
How ironic that I turned 16, my father passed away.
And a month later, it did happen to me.
And of course, he was not there.
That I, daughter of Louis Armstrong, became pregnant as a teen should come as neither shock nor surprise.
The statistics tell the story.
Children in single-parent households are more likely to get pregnant as teenagers than their peers who grow up with two parents.
No one noticed the promiscuity, the exploitation.
- [Louis Armstrong on tape] Well, I'll be seeing you, fräulein.
That's what they call the ladies over here, "fräulein" - My life of secrecy continued in a new chapter, the secret child now having a secret child.
After a while, it becomes a way of being.
Confused and frightened, I kept it to myself, willing it to go away.
It did not.
- I'm so tired right now, I couldn't raise an eyelid.
The gang here all said hello.
- And just as my boyfriend and I went our separate ways, Dave Gold and Associated Booking Corp sent the last savings bond that my father had purchased for my college education, effectively ending the last connection between Louis Armstrong and my mother and me.
My mother ended up taking a job as a cook at the Christian Brothers residence at Iona Prep School preparing weeknight dinners.
With bills piling up and a huge debt of taxes on the house, my mother sold our Mount Vernon residence for not much more than the original price from 1962.
By 1976, I'd earned an associate degree in liberal arts.
I transferred to Iona College and graduated with a BA in communication arts.
In time, my mother got a full-time position with the Girl Scouts and was hired as a cook for the priest at Holy Family Church, a job that lasted 17 years.
My father had disconnected us from his life while he was living.
And his death made it all the more glaring.
I was ashamed of the fact that his blood ran through my veins.
I kicked off my newfound independence by finally moving away from my mother.
I was an account executive at the only jazz station in the area, a success despite the heartbreak, despite the odds.
And just when I was willing to open my heart, I met Howard.
Howard and I may seem like a very unlikely pair.
He says, for him, it was love at first sight.
For me, the connection was pure, because he was and is a man I can trust.
Through the years, and becoming a grandmother, I knew in the back of my mind that I had to resolve the legacy of my father.
I found out firsthand how I'd been successfully and legally erased from Louis Armstrong's life with just a few strokes of a pen.
This is an amendment to his will signed by his surviving wife, Lucille Armstrong.
She crossed out, "and I", changing the document, the deceased never had any children.
And then wrote in, "nor did he ever adopt any children."
Seeing this document just really made me know that this rendered me invisible.
[jazz music playing] - It was right then, right there, that I decided to tell my story, to tell the world that I am here, that I matter.
Finally, mom agreed.
No more secrets.
It was with her blessing that I set out on my journey to discover myself, to discover my father.
Today, I walk with my head held high, the truth bathing me in light.
My son, my grandchildren, my family, my friends, and now the world know Louis Armstrong did indeed have a child, a daughter.
And she is alive.
And the blood of the father of jazz runs through her veins.
And she has a name and a heart that beats and a tongue that can finally profess loudly, succinctly, with conviction, I am Sharon Preston-Folta, Louis Armstrong's daughter, his only child.
I've waited my entire lifetime to say that publicly out loud.
And this was given to me with that old school lamination Scotch tape.
And it's a special note, "Thank you, Sharon.
I love, ooooh, four o's, which means you, your pappy Satch."
And not sure what the expression is, if he's laughing or crying or just singing.
But he thought that this was the photo he wanted to send to me with a note.
And there are so many things that I didn't keep.
I'm so happy that this is still one.
[MUSIC - "BOY FROM NEW ORLEANS"] - (SINGING) ♪ You are very kind to Old Satchmo.
♪ ♪ Yes.
♪ Nice looking boy.
- We were deprived of having my father.
And he made it painfully clear that he was deprived too.
- [Louis Armstrong on tape] Anyway, good night.
And God bless you.
From your old boy, old Satchmo, gizzard Louis Armstrong.
- (SINGING) ♪ This old boy from New Orleans.
♪ - His legacy was built on making people happy and at ease.
And anything to tarnish that legacy was dangerous.
But Satchmo was more than a caricature.
He had desires.
He had longings.
He had secrets.
And in private, he made sure to defend the things that he loved.
- And one of those was me.
But we always longed for more.
I still do.
And I know in my heart, so did he.
I thought that telling our story would bring me some peace.
And it has.
But it's left me with so many more questions too.
There is some sliver of light that reminds me of all the things I loved about you, your hearty laugh, how special we felt to be in your presence, the way that grumbly, froggy voice of yours sang out my name, Sharon.
Until now, I've been nothing more than an enigma, a footnote in your narrative, worthy, in some cases, of not even a sentence in your public life.
But yet, we were so much more a part of your heart, being rendered invisible hurts.
I need you to know that.
But I've come to accept that you did what you thought you could do, and that was best for all.
It wasn't, but that doesn't make you any less my father, the man whose shadow I lived in all my life, the one who shaped me, shaped who I am, and loved me.
Love, Sharon, your little Satchmo.
[MUSIC - "UNCLE SATCHMO'S LULLABY"] ♪ Lu la lu la lu, lu la lu la ly.
♪ ♪ Uncle Satchmo's lullaby.
♪ [jazz music playing] ♪ ♪