Howard Armstrong Profiled

Tom Freeland thf4@WATERVALLEY.NET
Fri Jun 19 13:31:23 EDT 1998

On 18 Jun 98 at 21:35, P.W. Fenton wrote:

> >Mr. Armstong, himself, told me that he speaks multiple languages, when we
> >were breakfasting in Port Townsend a year or two ago.  I can't say for
> >sure whether he was overstating (so to speak) his linguistic fluency, but
> >I found no reason to disbelieve him.  He did speak to me in German, which
> >was quite good, I thought.  I think he has spent considerable time in
> >Europe.  Why do you discount his claim because he is merely a Blues
> >artist?
> I don't have any way to discount his claim.  I do not know the man.
> I just feel that if it is true, it is amazing.

I suspect "fluency" in 7 language may be hyperbolic, but Armstrong
apparently *is* fluent in several.  He learned Italian from Italian
families in his neighborhood growing up in Knoxville.  He says in an
interview with Terry Zwigoff published in No. 5 of 78 QUARTERLY:

" ... There were Italians and Hungarians and whatever people from
southern parts of Europe, and we kids would play and play together, I
and I leanred how to start speaking foreign languages. A lot of white
kids would invite me over to their houses. They were interested in
music-- for me to play my mandolin and fiddle. And their mother, when
she fixed the table, she'd say, 'Come on all you young-ins. Sit down
here and eat.' Nobody ever said anything, and I ate all I could hold
and go back to fiddling some more. And I taught them things about
what I knew and then I picked up things from them. That's the way it
was. An exchange. I used to go to this one Italian boy's house--
Giuseppi Lobertini. He owuld take me to his house, and his uncle
liked me. He would say, 'You smarta boy. I teach you my languge.'
And he started me to reading Italian newspapers. He had the
*Bulletinia De La Cera* and *A Progresse De Americana* and *La
Tribona,* and it just titilated him to see me with my little black
self speaking this language. ANd I learned 'round nine years old that
I was speaking better Italian, grammatically, than I was English."

I've loaned out my later volumes of 78Q where the interview is
completed, but he talks about going to Chicago and discovering that
his talent for language makes him very marketable-- learning and
being able to speak and perform in Polish, Italian, and German made
his string band very popular with Chicago ethnic audiences.  One one
of the Bogen Armstrong records on Flying Fish records, he does a song
in Hawaiian, and claims to be able to speak it.

Tom Freeland

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