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Play depicting the life of Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong to show at LaFollette Middle

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By Charlotte Underwood

A play paying homage to Campbell County’s famous son Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong will be performed at the LaFollette Middle School auditorium tomorrow night at 7 p.m.

Completed just last year, it is a musical work paying respect to Armstrong and his place in American String Band history.  The play will be performed by The Carpet Bag Theatre ensemble based out of Knoxville.

“The Campbell County premier of the play commemorates the life and works of this Appalachian Renaissance man who was born 100 years ago this year,” said Campbell County Culture Coalition President Jo Anne Myers.

A native of LaFollette, Armstrong grew up during the coal boom days, learning the musical traditions of all the ethnicities striving to carve out an existence in the east Tennessee hills.

Late in his life Armstrong reached stardom after the documentary “Louie Bluie” aired in 1986.  As a result, Armstrong became one of the most famous String band musicians in American history.

Written by acclaimed playwright, Linda Parris-Bailey, Between a Ballad and a Blues spans the career of Armstrong for seven decades.  It begins in the early 1920s and continues until his death at 94 in 2003.

“I’m just thrilled that we’re able to do it here in Campbell County this year; especially to celebrate his birthday,” said Parris-Bailey.

“We have been helped, assisted and aided by Campbell County in our research for the play and it’s just great to bring Howard back home through the play,” Parris-Bailey said.

The play was created as a result of Parris-Bailey spending time with Armstrong before his death.

She listened to him sing, play his various instruments, and tell his story. The title of the play came out of one of those meetings.

She asked Armstrong how he described his incredible music, and he replied, “It’s somewhere between a ballad and a blues.”  

The outcome is an epic tale of Armstrong’s life as a musician, along with his experiences with fellow musicians Carl Martin and Ted Bogan.

The play is sponsored by the Campbell Culture Coalition and funded in part by an Arts Build Communities grant funded by the Tennessee General Assembly through the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Myers said she hopes that a lot of people come out and enjoy the play and the wonderful story of Armstrong’s life.

“We’re so happy to have the play here for Howard’s Birthday. We wanted to do something special to celebrate it,” said Myers.

“We’re just really proud to bring it back to the communities that supported it,” said Parris-Bailey.

Tickets bought in advance are $5 and $7.50 at the door.  

They are available online at www.campbellculturecoalition.org, or can be purchased at the Campbell County Historical Society located at 235 E. Central Avenue in downtown LaFollette.

For more information about Howard Armstrong and the Campbell Culture Coalition visit the web site at campbellculturecoalition.org or louiebluie.org.