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Regina Bain: “That was good but you got one thing wrong ”

We are part of an ecosystem of artists, educators, activists and thinkers throughout New York and beyond. When the pandemic hit and all the museums and theaters and dance companies closed at the same time that our country reckoned in earnest with its valuing of Black life, the emotional and financial impact on our community […]

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We are part of an ecosystem of artists, educators, activists and thinkers throughout New York and beyond. When the pandemic hit and all the museums and theaters and dance companies closed at the same time that our country reckoned in earnest with its valuing of Black life, the emotional and financial impact on our community was huge. That impact is ongoing.


As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Regina Bain.

Regina Bain now serves as the Executive Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum (LAHM). She is an artist, leader, facilitator and program designer with over 16 years of experience building non-profit capacity for organizational growth.

Previous to her appointment at LAHM, Ms. Bain served as Associate Vice President of the Posse Foundation. Posse is a national leadership and college access program which helps to send teams of students or “Posses” to top colleges and universities. At Posse Ms. Bain was deputy to the COO, helping to onboard and provide oversight for executive directors in Posse’s 10 site offices — Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Washington D.C. and The San Francisco Bay Area. As the organization developed, she helped to establish the offices in Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami and double Posse’s STEM initiative. She also helmed Posse’s Training and Evaluation department which works with human resources to onboard all new staff, provide skill training and professional development, and design curriculum. Ms. Bain’s efforts helped to increase Posse’s national student graduation rates for four consecutive years.

Ms. Bain is committed to social justice. She facilitates and trains others to facilitate conversations on social identity, leadership and group dynamics. She is currently the co-chair of Culture @3’s anti-racism subcommittee.

Bain serves on the national advisory council of Urban Bush Women (UBW). UBW is a dance company that galvanizes artists, activists and audiences through performances, artist development and community involvement. She produces The Drama Podcast, leads the Yale Black Alumni Association and serves on the Yale Board of Governors. Ms. Bain earned her BA in African-American Studies and Theater from Yale University and her MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

As part of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, Bain looks forward to joining a team that has fiercely shepherded and shared the story of Louis Armstrong for decades. The new Louis Armstrong Center will provide the space needed to expand his legacy of excellence in art, education and community.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My mother, Francina Bain is an artist and educator. She started her career as a physical education teacher and used the opportunity to teach dance — her first love. She went on to become an elementary school principal with an artistic flair. She was intentional about giving me expansive experiences including my first play — George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum, and watching the Kennedy Center Honors every year as they chronicled the contributions of artistic leaders. Through her, art, education and an appreciation for excellence have always been a part of my life.

I’m thankful for experiences like the Chargersonic Band at Suncoast High School, Shades a capella, teaching Hamlet with the Ulysses S. Grant Foundation and the Yale School of Drama where I studied acting. In the midst of an acting career, I started volunteering with The Posse Foundation, a national college access and leadership program. Eventually I became full-time at the organization, designing and facilitating workshop experiences to help college age students and their professors discuss topics like race and power.

Now, as the Executive Director of the Louis Armstrong House Museum, all of my experiences in art and education are coming together. By leading this organization, I can share the story of an artistic icon, explore current issues that are important to our communities, and bring together people of all ages, races and geographies into a powerful global community powered by the love of music.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Jason Moran is curating Louis Armstrong House Museum’s new exhibit — Here to Stay. In preparation and as part of his research, he hosts intimate, one on one, conversations with artists and thinkers. I’ve been sitting in. I get to listen closely as Wynton Marsalis, Jewel Brown and Nicholas Payton talk with Jason about their connection to Louis Armstrong. It’s a master class. I’m learning so much, hearing never-been-told-before stories and it’s sparking new ideas for the museum. The Here to Stay state of the art exhibit will debut in Spring 2021 at our new Armstrong Center being constructed right across the street from Louis and Lucille’s historic home in Queens. I can’t wait for everyone to see how the discussions with Jason manifest in the stories and images in the new center.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

During my interview process, I gave a presentation on Louis Armstrong. In that presentation I said that Louis Armstrong wrote What a Wonderful World. I said Mr. Armstrong could sing the lyrics “I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, They’ll learn much more, Than I’ll ever know” because of his experience living in the same home in Corona, Queens with his wife Lucille for decades. He was deeply involved and connected to the life of the neighborhood. I said it with confidence and with pride. At the end of the presentation, a member of the Board said “that was good but you got one thing wrong — Louis Armstrong didn’t write a Wonderful World but everything else is true.” How did I get that wrong!?! Ah well. Now I know and can tell the story the right way.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

We are part of an ecosystem of artists, educators, activists and thinkers throughout New York and beyond. When the pandemic hit and all the museums and theaters and dance companies closed at the same time that our country reckoned in earnest with its valuing of Black life, the emotional and financial impact on our community was huge. That impact is ongoing.

We have responded with Armstrong Now. Debuting this fall, Armstrong Now features Black artists responding creatively to Louis Armstrong. Through a nuanced engagement with Louis and Lucille’s historic home and Louis’s Archives, a cohort of artists delve into the complexities of Louis Armstrong and what he represents to our culture. The result of these engagements is the development of new collaborative projects, art works and a suite of films for all ages. Originally conceived by Kenyon Adams and brought to life by Jake Goldbas, Armstrong Now brings artists in intimate proximity to Louis Armstrong’s legacy, giving them the opportunity to learn, to interpret and to respond in ways that reflect the issues of today through their own artistic values.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Kayla Farrish is an extraordinary artist who has achieved success as a professional in her craft. When the pandemic hit, all of that stopped. With no income, she took on the role of a front-line worker at a convenience store. When I watch the pieces she created for Armstrong Now, I feel the journey of the last six months reflected in the power of her work. It’s captivating.

She writes, “I was inspired by the extraordinary craft, grit, feeling, soul, black experience, and layers of Louis Armstong in his music and life. I wanted to create intimacy with his layers like having the chance to get to experience closeness with his character in the home. I was drawn to the tension of placement and racism with “Uncle Tom” and other words that try to limit Black people. I was drawn to our masks and underlying meanings, and his searing heart and craft pouring into “On the Sunny Side of the Street” and beyond.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There’s a saying — “when you find yourself walking through the valley of the shadow of death, don’t stop. Keep going.” The health, economic and racial pandemics we are facing are exhausting. We have to take our moments to rest — I’m a fan of the Nap Ministry — but we also have to get up and keep going. Three things we can do to keep going are vote, fund the arts and make an ongoing commitment to anti-racism.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I gave my team off this November 3rd. It’s their day to use as they wish. It gives them the opportunity to fully engage in the electoral process and to help others do the same. Leadership means taking responsibility for what matters to you and your community. It means not only thinking about your impact on the business, but actively dreaming and pursuing the impact you can have on the world. For me, as a leader in this moment in our democracy, giving my team off on November 3rd is part of my attempt to take responsibility for what matters.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

“The only thing certain is if you wait for certainty, you will fail.” — Peter Guber, Golden State Warriors. I move much faster now.

Entrepreneurship isn’t just about finance. I’m a new student of entrepreneurship and I’m spreading the word about this critical skill.

STEM and Art are not mutually exclusive. No limits.

Sometimes leadership means being the first to get excited about something. I trust my ideas, even if they haven’t been done before.

Learn to ride a bike. I learned three years ago. Thanks Bike New York.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As we struggle to open schools and find the right balance, what if half of the school day was dedicated to art, computational thinking and entrepreneurship? Louis Armstrong was a musician and performer. He was also an early adopter who always had the latest recording technology. He led his band and successfully navigated himself as a business. He rose to the top of American culture as a Black man while the country reverberated with the fresh effects of slavery. Let’s study him. Let’s study his life and his art. Let’s engage artists, many of whom are currently out of work, and partner them with app developers, engineers and social impact entrepreneurs to support teachers as they navigate this new landscape. Let’s create “super field trips” into artists’ studios and engineers’ labs and entrepreneurs’ business plans. And let’s do it all with a deliberate focus on race, class and social identity in America and beyond. By doing so, we can help keep our economy going and provide revolutionary education that will help America’s young people persist and thrive in the midst of this changing landscape. Is there a school district and teachers’ union that wants to partner with the artists? We are ready to join you.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.” These are the last words of Zora Neale Hurston’s, Their Eyes Were Watching God. She says these words after a years-long journey where she finds love and death, beauty and a hurricane. In this moment in America and in this moment in my life, every day feels like a new journey filled with complex challenges and opportunities. At the end of each day I try and take a moment to acknowledge my journey, to call in my soul to come and see and give thanks for the life I get to lead.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have a list. This is my opportunity. I’m going for it.

Colin Kaepernick — Leadership, sacrifice and persistence.

Judith Jamison — Black excellence and vision.

Tony Bennett — There is a painting Tony Bennett made of Louis Armstrong hanging in Mr. Armstrong’s den. As we prepare to open the new center in Queens, I’d love to hear Mr. Bennett’s stories about working and laughing with Louis.

Barbra Streisand — Hello Dolly with Louis Armstrong beat out The Beatles. It would be amazing to hear this story.

Wale — One of his songs has the lyric “No handouts, but my arms strong like Satchmo.” I’m curious about Wale’s connection to Louis Armstrong.

Bobby McFerrin — The Medicine Man album has been on loop for me this past month. It’s living up to its name. I would love to talk to Mr. McFerrin about making his music.

Michelle Obama — Hey Michelle!!!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Honestly, I’m not on social media very much but you can catch me here:

Twitter: @_reginabain_

Instagram: @reinadelaplaya

And check out the Louis Armstrong House Museum:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/louisarmstronghouse/?hl=en

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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