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Howard 'Louie Bluie' Armstrong, 94; Versatile Jazz Fiddler

August 02, 2003|From Associated Press

Howard "Louie Bluie" Armstrong, a string-band fiddler who mastered genres from bluegrass to jazz, has died. He was 94.

Armstrong died Wednesday in Boston from complications related to a heart attack in March.

A composer, instrumentalist and singer, Armstrong performed across the country. Two PBS documentary films, Terry Zwigoff's "Louie Bluie" in 1985 and Leah Mahan's "Sweet Old Song" in 2002, chronicled parts of his life and work.

William Howard Taft Armstrong taught himself to play at the age of 9 on a fiddle that his father, a blast furnace operator, made for him in their hometown of LaFollette, Tenn. Over his lifetime, Armstrong took up 20 instruments, including the mandolin, violin, viola and banjo.

He had lived in Boston since 1996 and was married to Barbara Ward Armstrong, a soft-sculpture and fabric artist. Armstrong kept his age secret from his wife, having told her he was 55 when they met in Boston 20 years ago. Until his death, she told the Boston Globe, she did not know he was 30 years older than she was.

"Once, he let it slip that he would never forget the bombing of Pearl Harbor," she said, "and he conceded to being 73, though he looked about 50."

Armstrong played in several bands with his brothers, touring to any place where people would listen to them, including "bars ... coal fields, at juke joints, dances and at medicine shows," he told the Globe in 1999.

Armstrong's recordings, released by Vocalion Records, included "Vine Street Drag" and "Knox County Stomp."

He was active until his heart attack in March, which occurred shortly after the Armstrongs traveled to Nashville, Tenn., to accept the Governor's Awards in the Arts. Dolly Parton was another recipient this year.

Armstrong also is survived by three sons from a previous marriage -- Ralphe, Will and Robert -- all in Detroit, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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