Louis Armstrong

Louis Daniel Armstrong[1] (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971)[2] nicknamed Satchmo[3] or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer from New Orleans, Louisiana.

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Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence on jazz, shifting the music’s focus from collective improvisation to solo performers. With his distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also greatly skilled at scat singing, or vocalizing using syllables instead of actual lyrics.

Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and deep, instantly recognizable voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong’s influence extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general.

Armstrong often stated in public interviews that he was born on July 4, 1900,[4] a date that has been noted in many biographies. Although he died in 1971, it was not until the mid-1980s that his true birth date of August 4, 1901 was discovered through the examination of baptismal records.[5]

Dream A Little Dream Of Me”

Armstrong was born into a very poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana, the grandson of slaves. He spent his youth in poverty, in a rough neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, known as “Back of Town”, as his father, William Armstrong (1881–1922), abandoned the family when Louis was an infant and took up with another woman. His mother, Mary “Mayann” Albert (1886–1942), then left Louis and his younger sister Beatrice Armstrong Collins (1903–1987) in the care of his grandmother, Josephine Armstrong, and at times, his Uncle Isaac. At five, he moved back to live with his mother and her relatives, and saw his father only in parades.

“Mack the knife”- live in 1956

He attended the Fisk School for Boys. It was there that he likely had his first exposure to Creole music. He brought in some money as a paperboy and also by finding discarded food and selling it to restaurants, but it was not enough to keep his mother from prostitution. He hung out in dance halls close to home, where he observed everything from licentious dancing to the quadrille. For extra money he also hauled coal to Storyville, the famed red-light district, and listened to the bands playing in the brothels and dance halls, especially Pete Lala’s where Joe “King” Oliver performed and other famous musicians would drop in to jam.

After dropping out of the Fisk School at age eleven, Armstrong joined a quartet of boys that sang in the streets for money. But he also started to get into trouble. Cornet player Bunk Johnson said he taught Armstrong (then 11) to play by ear at Dago Tony’s Tonk in New Orleans,[6] although in his later years Armstrong gave the credit to Oliver. Armstrong hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times but instead drew inspiration from it, “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans…It has given me something to live for.”[7]

Basin Street Blues” 1959 in Stuttgart Germany

Louis Armstrong – trumpet
Trummy Young – trombone
Peanuts Hucko – clarinet
Billy Kyle – piano
Mort Herbert – bass
Danny Barcelona – drums

He also worked for a Lithuanian-Jewish immigrant family, the Karnofskys, who had a junk hauling business and gave him odd jobs. They took him in and treated him as almost a family member, knowing he lived without a father, and would feed and nurture him.[8] He later wrote a memoir of his relationship with the Karnofskys titled, Louis Armstrong + the Jewish Family in New Orleans, La., the Year of 1907. In it he describes his discovery that this family was also subject to discrimination by “other white folks’ nationalities who felt that they were better than the Jewish race. I was only seven years old but I could easily see the ungodly treatment that the White Folks were handing the poor Jewish family whom I worked for.” Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life and wrote about what he learned from them: “how to live—real life and determination.”[9] The influence of Karnofsky is remembered in New Orleans by the Karnofsky Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to accepting donated musical instruments to “put them into the hands of an eager child who could not otherwise take part in a wonderful learning experience.”[10]

Armstrong developed his cornet playing seriously in the band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where he had been sent multiple times for general delinquency, most notably for a long term after firing his stepfather’s pistol into the air at a New Year’s Eve celebration, as police records confirm. Professor Peter Davis (who frequently appeared at the Home at the request of its administrator, Captain Joseph Jones)[11] instilled discipline in and provided musical training to the otherwise self-taught Armstrong. Eventually, Davis made Armstrong the band leader. The Home band played around New Orleans and the thirteen year old Louis began to draw attention by his cornet playing, starting him on a musical career.[12] At fourteen he was released from the Home, living again with his father and new stepmother and then back with his mother and also back to the streets and their temptations. Armstrong got his first dance hall job at Henry Ponce’s where Black Benny became his protector and guide. He hauled coal by day and played his cornet at night.

Louis Armstrong with Velma Middleton & His All Stars – “Saint Louis Blues” Album: Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy -Year: 1954

He also played in the city’s frequent brass band parades and listened to older musicians every chance he got, learning from Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Kid Ory, and above all, Joe “King” Oliver, who acted as a mentor and father figure to the young musician. Later, he played in the brass bands and riverboats of New Orleans, and began traveling with the well-regarded band of Fate Marable, which toured on a steamboat up and down the Mississippi River. He described his time with Marable as, “going to the University,” since it gave him a much wider experience working with written arrangements.

In 1919, Joe Oliver decided to go north and he resigned his position in Kid Ory‘s band, then regarded as the best hot jazz group in New Orleans. Armstrong replaced his mentor in Ory’s band. He also became second trumpet for the Tuxedo Brass Band, a society band.[13]

On March 19, 1918, Louis married Daisy Parker from Gretna, Louisiana. They adopted a 3-year-old boy, Clarence Armstrong, whose mother, Louis’s cousin Flora, died soon after giving birth. Clarence Armstrong was mentally disabled (the result of a head injury at an early age) and Louis would spend the rest of his life taking care of him.[14] Louis’s marriage to Parker failed quickly and they separated. She died shortly after the divorce.

“A Song Is Born” (1948). All the greats of Jazz are here:
Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman,Golden Gate Quartet, Tommy Dorsey, Mel Powell, Louis Bellson, Charlie Barnett

Through all his riverboat experience Armstrong’s musicianship began to mature and expand. At twenty, he could now read music and he started to be featured in extended trumpet solos, one of the first jazzmen to do this, injecting his own personality and style into his solo turns. He had learned how to create a unique sound and also started using singing and patter in his performances.[15] In 1922, Armstrong joined the exodus to Chicago, where he had been invited by his mentor, Joe “King” Oliver, to join his Creole Jazz Band and where he could make a sufficient income so that he no longer needed to supplement his music with day labor jobs. It was a boom time in Chicago and though race relations were poor, the “Windy City” was teeming with jobs for blacks, who were making good wages in factories and had plenty to spend on entertainment.

“La Vie En Rose”

Oliver’s band was the best and most influential hot jazz band in Chicago in the early 1920s, at a time when Chicago was the center of the jazz universe. Armstrong lived like a king in Chicago, in his own apartment with his own private bath (his first). Excited as he was to be in Chicago, he began his career-long pastime of writing nostalgic letters to friends in New Orleans. As Armstrong’s reputation grew, he was challenged to “cutting contests” by hornmen trying to displace the new phenom, who could blow two hundred high C’s in a row.[16] Armstrong made his first recordings on the Gennett and Okeh labels (jazz records were starting to boom across the country), including taking some solos and breaks, while playing second cornet in Oliver’s band in 1923. At this time, he met Hoagy Carmichael (with whom he would collaborate later) who was introduced by friend Bix Beiderbecke, who now had his own Chicago band.

Armstrong enjoyed working with Oliver, but Louis’s second wife, pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong, urged him to seek more prominent billing and develop his newer style away from the influence of Oliver. Armstrong took the advice of his wife and left Oliver’s band. For a year Armstrong played in Fletcher Henderson‘s band in New York on many recordings. After playing in New York, Armstrong returned to Chicago, playing in large orchestras; there he created his most important early recordings.[17] Lil had her husband play classical music in church concerts to broaden his skill and improve his solo play and she prodded him into wearing more stylish attire to make him look sharp and to better offset his growing girth. Lil’s influence eventually undermined Armstrong’s relationship with his mentor, especially concerning his salary and additional moneys that Oliver held back from Armstrong and other band members. Armstrong and Oliver parted amicably in 1924. Shortly afterward, Armstrong received an invitation to go to New York City to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, the top African-American band of the day. Armstrong switched to the trumpet to blend in better with the other musicians in his section. His influence upon Henderson’s tenor sax soloist, Coleman Hawkins, can be judged by listening to the records made by the band during this period.

From Hello Dolly, Louis and Barbra Streisand

Armstrong quickly adapted to the more tightly controlled style of Henderson, playing trumpet and even experimenting with the trombone and the other members quickly took up Armstrong’s emotional, expressive pulse. Soon his act included singing and telling tales of New Orleans characters, especially preachers.[18] The Henderson Orchestra was playing in the best venues for white-only patrons, including the famed Roseland Ballroom, featuring the classy arrangements of Don Redman. Duke Ellington’s orchestra would go to Roseland to catch Armstrong’s performances and young hornmen around town tried in vain to outplay him, splitting their lips in their attempts.

During this time, Armstrong also made many recordings on the side, arranged by an old friend from New Orleans, pianist Clarence Williams; these included small jazz band sides with the Williams Blue Five (some of the best pairing Armstrong with one of Armstrong’s few rivals in fiery technique and ideas, Sidney Bechet) and a series of accompaniments with blues singers, including Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Alberta Hunter.

Armstrong returned to Chicago in 1925 due mostly to the urging of his wife, who wanted to pump up Armstrong’s career and income. He was content in New York but later would concede that she was right and that the Henderson Orchestra was limiting his artistic growth. In publicity, much to his chagrin, she billed him as “the World’s Greatest Trumpet Player”. At first he was actually a member of the Lil Hardin Armstrong Band and working for his wife.[19] He began recording under his own name for Okeh with his famous Hot Five and Hot Seven groups, producing hits such as “Potato Head Blues“, “Muggles“, (a reference to marijuana, for which Armstrong had a lifelong fondness), and “West End Blues“, the music of which set the standard and the agenda for jazz for many years to come.

“Cheek to Cheek” with Ella Fitzgerald. The albums recorded by Ella and Louis are right there are the top of my list of favorites. Recorded in the late 50’s, this was the peak period for both performers.

The group included Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), wife Lil on piano, and usually no drummer. Armstrong’s bandleading style was easygoing, as St. Cyr noted, “One felt so relaxed working with him and he was very broad-minded … always did his best to feature each individual.”[20] His recordings soon after with pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (most famously their 1928 Weatherbird duet) and Armstrong’s trumpet introduction to “West End Blues” remain some of the most famous and influential improvisations in jazz history. Armstrong was now free to develop his personal style as he wished, which included a heavy dose of effervescent jive, such as “whip that thing, Miss Lil” and “Mr. Johnny Dodds, Aw, do that clarinet, boy!”[21]

Gershwin’s, “They Can’t Take That Away”

Armstrong also played with Erskine Tate’s Little Symphony, actually a quintet, which played mostly at the Vendome Theatre. They furnished music for silent movies and live shows, including jazz versions of classical music, such as “Madame Butterfly,” which gave Armstrong experience with longer forms of music and with hosting before a large audience. He began to scat sing (improvised vocal jazz using non-sensical words) and was among the first to record it, on “Heebie Jeebies” in 1926. So popular was the recording the group became the most famous jazz band in USA even though they as yet had not performed live to any great degree. Young musicians across the country, black and white, were turned on by Armstrong’s new type of jazz.[22]

After separating from Lil, Armstrong started to play at the Sunset Café for Al Capone’s associate Joe Glaser in the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra, with Earl Hines on piano, which was soon renamed Louis Armstrong and his Stompers, though Hines was the music director and Glaser managed the orchestra. Hines and Armstrong became fast friends as well as successful collaborators.

Armstrong returned to New York, in 1929, where he played in the pit orchestra of the successful musical Hot Chocolate, an all-black revue written by Andy Razaf and pianist/composer Fats Waller. He also made a cameo appearance as a vocalist, regularly stealing the show with his rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin’“, his version of the song becoming his biggest selling record to date.[23]

Armstrong started to work at Connie’s Inn in Harlem, chief rival to the Cotton Club, a venue for elaborately staged floor shows,[24] and a front for gangster Dutch Schultz. Armstrong also had considerable success with vocal recordings, including versions of famous songs composed by his old friend Hoagy Carmichael. His 1930s recordings took full advantage of the new RCA ribbon microphone, introduced in 1931, which imparted a characteristic warmth to vocals and immediately became an intrinsic part of the ‘crooning‘ sound of artists like Bing Crosby. Armstrong’s famous interpretation of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” became one of the most successful versions of this song ever recorded, showcasing Armstrong’s unique vocal sound and style and his innovative approach to singing songs that had already become standards.

Armstrong’s radical re-working of Sidney Arodin and Carmichael’s “Lazy River” (recorded in 1931) encapsulated many features of his groundbreaking approach to melody and phrasing. The song begins with a brief trumpet solo, then the main melody is stated by sobbing horns, memorably punctuated by Armstrong’s growling interjections at the end of each bar: “Yeah! …”Uh-huh” …”Sure” … “Way down, way down.” In the first verse, he ignores the notated melody entirely and sings as if playing a trumpet solo, pitching most of the first line on a single note and using strongly syncopated phrasing. In the second stanza he breaks into an almost fully improvised melody, which then evolves into a classic passage of Armstrong “scat singing“.

“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm”

As with his trumpet playing, Armstrong’s vocal innovations served as a foundation stone for the art of jazz vocal interpretation. The uniquely gritty coloration of his voice became a musical archetype that was much imitated and endlessly impersonated. His scat singing style was enriched by his matchless experience as a trumpet soloist. His resonant, velvety lower-register tone and bubbling cadences on sides such as “Lazy River” exerted a huge influence on younger white singers such as Bing Crosby.

The Depression of the early Thirties was especially hard on the jazz scene. The Cotton Club closed in 1936 after a long downward spiral and many musicians stopped playing altogether as club dates evaporated. Bix Beiderbecke died and Fletcher Henderson’s band broke up. King Oliver made a few records but otherwise struggled. Sidney Bechet became a tailor and Kid Ory returned to New Orleans and raised chickens.[25] Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 to seek new opportunities. He played at the New Cotton Club in LA with Lionel Hampton on drums. The band drew the Hollywood crowd, which could still afford a lavish night life, while radio broadcasts from the club connected with younger audiences at home. Bing Crosby and many other celebrities were regulars at the club. In 1931, Armstrong appeared in his first movie, Ex-Flame. Armstrong was convicted of marijuana possession but received a suspended sentence. He returned to Chicago in late 1931 and played in bands more in the Guy Lombardo vein and he recorded more standards. When the mob insisted that he get out of town, Armstrong visited New Orleans, got a hero’s welcome and saw old friends. He sponsored a local baseball team known as “Armstrong’s Secret Nine” and got a cigar named after himself.[26] But soon he was on the road again and after a tour across the country shadowed by the mob, Armstrong decided to go to Europe to escape.

Louis with Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, & Frank Sinatra. Very cool video!!

After returning to the States, he undertook several exhausting tours. His agent Johnny Collins’ erratic behavior and his own spending ways left Armstrong short of cash. Breach of contract violations plagued him. Finally, he hired Joe Glaser as his new manager, a tough mob-connected wheeler-dealer, who began to straighten out his legal mess, his mob troubles, and his debts. Armstrong also began to experience problems with his fingers and lips, which were aggravated by his unorthodox playing style. As a result he branched out, developing his vocal style and making his first theatrical appearances. He appeared in movies again, including Crosby’s 1936 hit Pennies from Heaven. In 1937, Armstrong substituted for Rudy Vallee on the CBS radio network and became the first African American to host a sponsored, national broadcast.[27] He finally divorced Lil in 1938 and married longtime girlfriend Alpha.

After spending many years on the road, Armstrong settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 in contentment with his fourth wife, Lucille. Although subject to the vicissitudes of Tin Pan Alley and the gangster-ridden music business, as well as anti-black prejudice, he continued to develop his playing. He recorded Hoagy Carmichael’s Rockin’ Chair for Okeh Records.

During the subsequent thirty years, Armstrong played more than three hundred gigs a year. Bookings for big bands tapered off during the 1940s due to changes in public tastes: ballrooms closed, and there was competition from television and from other types of music becoming more popular than big band music. It became impossible under such circumstances to support and finance a 16-piece touring band.

Following a highly successful small-group jazz concert at New York Town Hall on May 17, 1947, featuring Armstrong with trombonist/singer Jack Teagarden, Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser dissolved the Armstrong big band on August 13, 1947 and established a six-piece small group featuring Armstrong with (initially) Teagarden, Earl Hines and other top swing and dixieland musicians, most of them ex-big band leaders. The new group was announced at the opening of Billy Berg’s Supper Club.

Some more of the Fantastic Louis Armstrong in High Society Calypso 1954…… [from the movie]

This group was called Louis Armstrong and his All Stars and included at various times Earl “Fatha” Hines, Barney Bigard, Edmond Hall, Jack Teagarden, Trummy Young, Arvell Shaw, Billy Kyle, Marty Napoleon, Big Sid Catlett, Cozy Cole, Tyree Glenn, Barrett Deems and the Filipino-American percussionist, Danny Barcelona. During this period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over thirty films. He was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time Magazine on February 21, 1949.

In 1964, he recorded his biggest-selling record, “Hello, Dolly!“. The song went to #1 on the pop chart, making Armstrong (age 63) the oldest person to ever accomplish that feat. In the process, Armstrong dislodged The Beatles from the #1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with three different songs.[28]

Armstrong kept up his busy tour schedule until a few years before his death in 1971. In his later years he would sometimes play some of his numerous gigs by rote, but other times would enliven the most mundane gig with his vigorous playing, often to the astonishment of his band. He also toured Africa, Europe, and Asia under sponsorship of the US State Department with great success, earning the nickname “Ambassador Satch.” While failing health restricted his schedule in his last years, within those limitations he continued playing until the day he died.

Louie sings “A kiss To Build A Dream On” and “Blueberry Hill”

Armstrong died just after a heart attack on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday,[29] and 11 months after playing a famous show at the Waldorf-Astoria‘s Empire Room.[30] He was residing in Corona, Queens, New York City, at the time of his death.[31] He was interred in Flushing Cemetery, Flushing, in Queens, New York City.

His honorary pallbearers included Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and Bobby Hackett.

Peggy Lee sang The Lord’s Prayer at the services while Al Hibbler sang “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and Fred Robbins, a long-time friend, gave the eulogy.[32 ]

The nickname Satchmo or Satch is short for Satchelmouth (describing his embouchure). In 1932, then Melody Maker magazine editor Percy Brooks greeted Armstrong in London with, “Hello, Satchmo!” and it stuck. Early on he was also known as Dipper, short for Dippermouth, a reference to the piece Dippermouth Blues.[33]

The damage to his embouchure from his high pressure approach to playing is acutely visible in many pictures of Louis from the mid-twenties. It also led to his emphasizing his singing career because at certain periods he was unable to play. However, after having set his trumpet aside for a while, he amended his playing style and continued his trumpet career. Friends and fellow musicians usually called him Pops, which is also how Armstrong usually addressed his friends and fellow musicians (except for Pops Foster, whom Armstrong always called “George”).

He was also criticized for accepting the title of “King of The Zulus” — in the New Orleans African-American community, an honored role as head of leading black Carnival Krewe, but bewildering or offensive to outsiders with their traditional costume of grass-skirts and blackface makeup satirizing southern white attitudes—for Mardi Gras 1949.

Whatever the case, where some saw a gregarious and outgoing personality, others saw someone trying too hard to appeal to white audiences and essentially becoming a minstrel caricature. Some musicians criticized Armstrong for playing in front of segregated audiences, and for not taking a strong enough stand in the civil rights movement suggesting that he was an Uncle Tom. Billie Holiday countered, however, “Of course Pops toms, but he toms from the heart.”

Armstrong was a major financial supporter of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights activists. Armstrong mostly preferred to work quietly behind the scenes, not mixing his politics with his work as an entertainer. The few exceptions made it more effective when he did speak out. Armstrong’s criticism of President Eisenhower, calling him “two-faced” and “gutless” because of his inaction during the conflict over school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 made national news. As a protest, Armstrong canceled a planned tour of the Soviet Union on behalf of the State Department saying “The way they’re treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell” and that he could not represent his government abroad when it was in conflict with its own people.[34] The FBI kept a file on Armstrong, for his outspokenness about integration.[35]

When asked about his religion, Armstrong would answer that he was raised a Baptist, always wore a Star of David, and was friends with the Pope.[36] Armstrong wore the Star of David in honor of the Karnofsky family, who took him in as a child and lent him the money to buy his first cornet. Louis Armstrong was, in fact, baptized as a Catholic at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in New Orleans,[36] and he met popes Pius XII and Paul VI, though there is no evidence that he considered himself Catholic. Armstrong seems to have been tolerant towards various religions, but also found humor in them.

He was an extremely generous man, who was said to have given away as much money as he kept for himself. Armstrong was also greatly concerned with his health and bodily functions. He made frequent use of laxatives as a means of controlling his weight, a practice he advocated both to personal acquaintances and in the diet plans he published under the title Lose Weight the Satchmo Way. Armstrong’s laxative of preference in his younger days was Pluto Water, but he then became an enthusiastic convert when he discovered the herbal remedy Swiss Kriss. He would extol its virtues to anyone who would listen and pass out packets to everyone he encountered, including members of the British Royal Family. (Armstrong also appeared in humorous, albeit risqué, cards that he had printed to send out to friends; the cards bore a picture of him sitting on a toilet—as viewed through a keyhole—with the slogan “Satch says, ‘Leave it all behind ya!’“)[37] The cards have sometimes been incorrectly described as ads for Swiss Kriss.[38]

In a live recording of Baby, It’s Cold Outside with Velma Middleton, he changes the lyric from “Put another record on while I pour” to “Take some Swiss Kriss while I pour.” The line, slightly garbled in the live recording, could just as likely be “Take some Swiss Miss while I pour”—Swiss Miss is a hot chocolate mix that would have been fairly new on the market in 1951. (The line comes at 1:04 in the song.)[39]

The concern with his health and weight was balanced by his love of food, reflected in such songs as “Cheesecake,” “Cornet Chop Suey,”[40] though “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue” was written about a fine-looking companion, not about food.[41] He kept a strong connection throughout his life to the cooking of New Orleans, always signing his letters, “Red beans and ricely yours…”[42]

Although Armstrong is not known to have fathered any children, he loved children and would go out of his way to entertain the neighborhood kids in Corona and to encourage young musicians.

Armstrong’s gregariousness extended to writing. On the road, he wrote constantly, sharing favorite themes of his life with correspondents around the world. He avidly typed or wrote on whatever stationery was at hand, recording instant takes on music, sex, food, childhood memories, his heavy “medicinal” marijuana use—and even his bowel movements, which he gleefully described.[43] He had a fondness for lewd jokes and dirty limericks as well.

Armstrong was an avid audiophile. He had a large collection of recordings, including reel-to-reel tapes, which he took on the road with him in a trunk during his later career. He enjoyed listening to his own recordings, and comparing his performances musically. In the den of his home, he had the latest audio equipment and would sometimes rehearse and record along with his older recordings or the radio.[44]

Louis Armstrong was also a Freemason, Montgomery Lodge No. 18 (Prince Hall), New York.[45]

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Quick Bio Facts:

Louis ArmstrongLouis Armstrong AKA Louis Daniel Armstrong

Born: 4-Aug1901
Birthplace: New Orleans, LA
Died: 6-Jul1971
Location of death: New York City
Cause of death: Heart Failure
Remains: Buried, Flushing Cemetery, Queens, NY

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Jazz Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Jazz trumpeter

Perhaps the most significant influence on the direction and development of jazz, and certainly the leading musician to emerge during its formative years, Louis Armstrong shared a birthplace with that of the genre he helped to create: New Orleans, Louisiana. Born in the city’s dangerous Storyville District, Armstrong spent the earliest years of his life with his grandmother, eventually being delivered back into the care of his mother — a woman whose circumstances of extreme poverty occasionally forced her to resort to prostitution as a means of survival. By the age of seven the young boy was already working to help support his family, singing on street corners as part of a vocal quartet and doing various jobs for a junk wagon owned by the Karnofskys, a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. It was around this time that Armstrong came into possession of his first cornet, purchased with money lent by his employers.

Ironically enough, the first development to aid Armstrong in his escape from poverty was brought about by an arrest at the age of 13. After having been caught firing a pistol in the air during celebrations on New Year’s Eve 1912, he was removed from his family and placed in the custody of the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys; it was here that he received his first musical instruction from the home’s band director, Peter Davis, who, by the end of Armstrong’s year of internment, had promoted the promising young talent to the position of bandleader. Upon his release, Armstrong began supporting himself selling newspapers and doing manual labor, while spending his free time absorbing the sounds of the emerging jazz scene in local nightclubs. Eventually he came under the tutelage of cornetist Joe Oliver, and after Oliver’s move to Chicago in 1918 Armstrong was enlisted as his replacement in The Kid Ory Band, one of the leading jazz groups in New Orleans.

In 1919 Armstrong was offered an opportunity to perform on Mississippi riverboats as part of the The Fate Marable Orchestra, and it was during the next two years working under Marable that the young musician received his most intensive musical training. An invitation to re-join with his old mentor Oliver in Chicago arrived in 1922, bringing about a two-year stint as second cornetist for King Oliver’s Creole Band, as well as his first recording session (as part of the band) in April of 1923; a year playing with Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York followed in 1924, supplemented by several opportunities to record with other jazz and blues acts. Towards the end of 1925, Armstrong decided to return to Chicago and assemble his own band (named Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five), and the first recordings under his own name were subsequently made with this ensemble in November.

Purely a studio-based act, the Hot Five (occasionally expanded to the Hot Seven) produced an impressive catalogue of recordings over the next three years, while Armstrong continued to perform live with artists such as Erskine Tate, Earl Hines and the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. Two records that had a particularly strong influence on the course of jazz music were created during this period: Heebie Jeebies (1926) (performed with the Hot Five and featuring one of the first recorded examples of scat singing) and West End Blues (1928) (a King Oliver track recorded with the Hot Five and Earl Hines). The short-lived live band Louis Armstrong and His Stompers was assembled in 1928, but by 1929 Armstrong had once again returned to New York, where he spent part of the year touring with the Broadway show Hot Chocolates.

With the arrival of the 1930s, Armstrong found himself positioned as one of the top bandleaders in the jazz field, and numbered amongst the most highly-regarded musicians in the world. By this point in his career his reputation had spread well beyond his homeland, and the decade found him performing to large, enthusiastic audiences all across the States, Great Britain, Europe and Scandinavia. An additional boost to his career was given in 1935, when he started what would turn out to be a life-long business relationship with manager Joe Glaser: with Glaser’s help, he would secure a place on the Decca roster alongside popular acts such as The Mills Brothers and Tommy Dorsey, and steadily break through many of the obstacles faced by black performers due to the severely racist climate still existing in the United States at the time. Numerous film appearances throughout the second half of the 30s — including Pennies from Heaven (1936) (opposite Bing Crosby, an outspoken supporter of Armstrong’s music), Artists and Models (1937), Every Day’s a Holiday (1937) (opposite Mae West), and Going Places — subsequently broadened his popularity beyond jazz circles and into the mainstream.

During the war years, Armstrong continued to develop his various creative avenues, steadily adding to his list of film credits — Cabin in the Sky (1943), Atlantic City (1944, alongside singer Billie Holiday), and Pillow to Post (1945) — and maintaining an extremely active live schedule; a musician’s union strike prompted by the outbreak of the war, however, prevented much recording from being possible until 1946. After a well-received Carnegie Hall appearance with a small jazz ensemble in 1947, the bandleader made a permanent break with the (now somewhat unfashionable) big band format and assembled The All Stars — a compact, seven-piece configuration that he would utilize for the remainder of his career. The demand for his talents remained undiminished in the 1950s, and despite changing popular tastes he repeatedly placed himself high in the charts with singles like (When We Are Dancing) I Get Ideas (1951), its flip-side A Kiss to Build a Dream On, and Mack The Knife (1956), and the albums Satchmo at Symphony Hall (1951), Satch Plays Fats (1955, a collection of Fats Waller interpretations), and Ella and Louis (1956, a collaboration with vocalist Ella Fitzgerald).

Despite health problems (the most significant result of which was a heart attack suffered in 1959), the energetic bandleader kept to his busy performance itinerary throughout the 50s and 60s, extending his range beyond North America and Europe into South America, Africa and the Middle East. Armstrong even managed to earn himself one last US #1 in the midst of Beatlemania, shouldering past the British band’s huge hit Can’t Buy Me Love with his recording of Hello Dolly! (1964). This lively pace would remain almost undiminished until his death in July of 1971, his final performance having taken place at the Empire Room in New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. Appreciation of his music remained strong in the following decades, however, and the use of his recordings in films soundtracks such as Good Morning, Vietnam (1987) (which placed the 1968 hit What a Wonderful World back in the charts), Driving Miss Daisy (1989), Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and Something’s Gotta Give (2003) maintained his presence in the public consciousness.

Father: William Armstrong (turpentine worker)
Mother: May-Ann
Sister: Beatrice (Mama Lucy)
Wife: Daisy Parker (m. 1918, div.)
Wife: Lil Hardin (musician, m. 1924, div. 1931)
Wife: Alpha Smith (m. 1938, div. )
Wife: Lucille Wilson (m. 12-Oct-1942, d. 1983)

Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five (1925-28)
Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven (1927)
Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra (1928-47)
Louis Armstrong and His All-Stars
Hollywood Walk of Fame
Grammy 1972 (Lifetime Achievement Award)
Tonsillectomy
Drug Possession: Marijuana Los Angeles, CA 1931
Asteroid Namesake 9179 Satchmo
Risk Factors: Marijuana, Obesity

FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
New York: A Documentary Film (14-Nov-1999) Himself
Hello, Dolly! (16-Dec-1969)
A Man Called Adam (3-Aug-1966)
When the Boys Meet the Girls (10-Oct-1965) Himself
Paris Blues (27-Sep-1961)
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (28-Mar-1960) Himself
The Beat Generation (3-Jul-1959) Himself
The Five Pennies (18-Jun-1959) Himself
High Society (17-Jul-1956) Himself
The Glenn Miller Story (10-Dec-1953) Himself
Glory Alley (6-Jun-1952)
The Strip (Aug-1951) Himself
A Song is Born (19-Oct-1948) Himself
New Orleans (18-Apr-1947) Himself
Pillow to Post (17-May-1945) Himself
Atlantic City (29-Jul-1944) Himself
Cabin in the Sky (9-Apr-1943)
Going Places (31-Dec-1938)
Every Day’s a Holiday (18-Dec-1937) Himself
Artists & Models (4-Aug-1937)
Pennies From Heaven (25-Nov-1936)

Official Website:
http://www.satchmo.net/

Sources: Wikipedia, youtube, imdb.com, nndb.com

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5 Comments

  1. Where did you get your pictures of Louis Armstrong? Did you scan them from a book or are they your pictures?

    • Hi,

      All of the Louis Armstrong photos come from: Google Images and IMDB.com

      Regards, Paul

  2. I grew up listening to and enjoying Louis Armstrongs music
    Thanks very much for a wonderful walk down memory lane

    • You’re welcome for the stroll down memory lane. Who better to do it with, than Louis Armstrong. The only thing better that I could think of is including Ella Fitzgerald! Happy New Year,
      Paul

  3. i like music of louis arm strong


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