Louis Armstrong

  • Jazz trumpeter, composer and vocalist born in 1901 in New Orleans Louisiana. Died in 1971 from a heart attack.
  • Armstrong was born into poverty, to a 16 year old mother and an absent father. As a boy, he did odd jobs for a local Jewish family who fed him and looked after him. They loaned him some money so that he could buy a cornet at a pawn shop. At 11 years old, he dropped out of school. He sang in the streets with other boys, busking for money. In December 1912 he was arrested for firing a pistol, and he spent the next year and a half in a detention home. He played in the band at the home, developing his cornet skills. After his release, he aspired to become a musician.
  • He caught on as a musician for riverboat brass bands. His first trip was in 1918 aboard the steamship Sidney with Fate Marable’s band. Marable required that his musicians read music, and Armstrong learned to sight read. The following year, he joined Kid Orly’s band, and he also played second trumpet in the Tuxedo Brass Band. Soon, he was featured on extended solos and he added vocals to his performances. In 1922, King Oliver invited him to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago, which allowed Armstrong to work full time as a musician.
  • His first recordings were with Oliver in 1923. The following year, he moved to New York City to join the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, switching to trumpet. While in New York, he recorded with several other artists. In 1924, he returned to Chicago and formed Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five. They recorded blues and ragtime songs like St. Louis Blues, Potato Head Blues, Good Time Flat Blues, High Society Rag and Heebie Jeebies, which featured Armstrong’s scat singing. In 1927, the Hot Five became the Hot Seven, and more recordings were made. By now, Armstrong’s style of jazz music was known throughout America.
  • Over the following decades, Armstrong became known as the world’s greatest trumpet player and jazz music influencer. His performances included innovations in improvisation and creativity, a first for the trumpet and jazz in general. His gravelly scat singing became the foundation of future jazz vocalization. He composed over 50 songs, many of which became jazz standards. He appeared in dozens of films, often portraying himself as a musician or bandleader. By the 50s, he was an American icon and an international ambassador of American jazz music and American culture itself. He was the rare black man who was largely accepted into white society.
  • His numerous recordings included 19 records that were top ten hits including classics like Stardust, What a Wonderful World, Ain’t Misbehavin’, When the Saints Go Marching In and Stompin’ at the Savoy. In 1964, at 63 years old, he knocked the Beatles out of the #1 song on the Hot 100 chart with Hello Dolly!, making him the oldest artist to have a #1 song. The song won the Grammy for Best Male Vocal Performance. In 1968, his version of What A Wonderful World was the #1 song in the UK for a month, but it didn’t sell in the U.S. at the time because the president of the record company in the U.S. did not like it, so he refused to promote it. Over the years, it became hugely popular throughout the world and an Armstrong standard.
  • Armstrong had the nicknames of “Satchmo,” “Satch” and “Pops.” “Satchmo” and “Satch” were shortened forms of “Satchel Mouth.” The origin was not clear, but one theory was that someone called him Satchel Mouth as a boy, when he would take coins that were thrown to him while he performed on the streets, putting them in his mouth to prevent others from stealing them.  The “Pops” nickname came from Armstrong’s tendency to forget people’s names, so he would refer to them as Pops. Since Armstrong used the term so often, others started calling him Pops.
  • His legacy includes many awards and honors. The year after his death, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Twelve of his recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. In 1990, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Influencer.” His “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” recordings from 1925 to 1928 were preserved in the U.S. National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress in 2002. In 2001, the international airport in New Orleans was renamed the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in his honor.
  • Armstrong was a larger than life character that was arguably the most important figure in jazz music. Here’s Satchmo performing Hello Dolly! in 1965 in Berlin, and two more bonuses – a 1967 TV special with What A Wonderful World, and one of the earlier videos put on YouTube, When the Saints Come Marching In – enjoy the vocals and trumpet!

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