(4 August 1901
– July 6, 1971),
, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer.
Armstrong was a
charismatic, innovative performer whose inspired, improvised soloing was the
main influence for a fundamental change in jazz, shifting its focus from
collective melodic playing, often arranged in one way or another, to the
solo player and improvised soloing. One of the most famous jazz musicians of
the 20th century, he was first known as a cornet player, then as a trumpet
player, and toward the end of his career he was best known as a vocalist and
became one of the most influential jazz singers.
Armstrong often stated in public interviews that he was born on July 4,
1900 (Independence Day in the USA), a date that has been noted in many
biographies. Although he died in 1971, it wasn't until the mid-1980s that
his true birth date of August 4th, 1901 was discovered through the
examination of baptismal records.
He was recorded as an illegitimate black child.
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 Albert Armstrong (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. He attended the Fisk
School for Boys where he likely had his first exposure to Creole music. He
brought in a little money as a paperboy and also by finding discarded food
and selling it to restaurants but it wasn’t enough to keep his mother from
prostitution. He hung out in dance halls particularly the “Funky Butt” which
was the closest to his home, where he observed everything from licentious
dancing to the quadrille. He 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.
Armstrong grew up at the bottom of the social ladder, in a highly
segregated city, but one which lived in a constant fervour of music, which
was generally called “ragtime”, and not yet “jazz”. Despite the hard early
days, Armstrong seldom 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.”
After dropping out of the Fisk School at eleven, Armstrong joined a
quartet of boys in similar straits as he, and they sang in the streets for
money. 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, although in his later
years Armstrong gave the credit to Oliver. His first cornet was bought with
money loaned to him by the Karnofskys, a Russian-Jewish immigrant family who
had a junk hauling business and gave him odd jobs. To express gratitude
towards the Karnofskys, who took him in as almost a family member, and fed
and nurtured him, Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his
|Louis Armstrong's stage personality matched his flashy trumpet. Armstrong is also known for his raspy singing voice.
Armstrong seriously developed his cornet playing 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)
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 began to draw
attention to his cornet playing, starting him on a musical career.At
fourteen he was released from the Home, and living again with his father and
new stepmother, and then back to his mother and also back to the streets and
its 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.
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 first started travelling 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
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 and played second cornet. Soon he was promoted
to first cornet and he also became second trumpet for the Tuxedo Brass Band,
a society band.
|Also known as
||August 4, 1901
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
||July 6, 1971 (aged 69)
Corona, Queens, New York City, NY, U.S.
||Jazz, Dixieland, Swing, Traditional pop
||Trumpet, cornet, vocals
||Joe "King" Oliver, Ella Fitzgerald, Kid Ory
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
retarded (result of a head injury at an early age) and Louis would spend the
rest of his life taking care of him.
Louis's marriage to Parker failed quickly and they separated. She died
shortly after the divorce.
Through his riverboat experiences, Armstrong’s musicianship began to
mature. 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
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 need 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.
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 centre 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 horn men trying to displace the new phenom, who could blow two
hundred high C’s in a row.
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 pal Bix Beiderbecke, who now had his own Chicago band.
Armstrong enjoyed working with Oliver, but Louis' second wife, pianist
Lil Hardin Armstrong, urged him to seek more prominent billing and develop
his newer style away from the influence of Oliver. She 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 and
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.
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,
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.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.
The group included Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Johnny
St. Cyr (banjo), wife Lil on piano, and usually no drummer. Armstrong’s
band leading 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". His
recordings 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!"
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 America 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
After separating from Lil, Armstrong started to play at the Sunset Café
for Al Capone 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
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.
He started to work at Connie’s Inn in Harlem, the second nightspot in
fame to the Cotton Club, 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, which are 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
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 Olivier made a
few records but otherwise struggled. Sidney Bechet became a tailor and Kid
Ory returned to New Orleans and raised chickens.
Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 seeking new opportunities. He played
at the New Cotton Club in LA with Lionel Hampton on drums, and the band drew
the Hollywood crowd which could still afford a lavish night life, and 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 and 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.
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.
After returning to the States, he undertook several exhausting tours. His
agent Johnny Collins’ erratic behaviour 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. In 1937, Armstrong
substituted for Rudy Vallee on the CBS radio network and became the first
black to host a sponsored, national broadcast.
He finally divorced Lil in 1938 and married longtime girlfriend Alpha.
After spending many years on the road, he 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
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.
The All Stars
Following a highly successful small-group jazz concert at New York Town
Hall on May 17, 1947, featuring Armstrong with 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.
This group was called the 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, Barrett Deems
and the Filipino-American percussionist, Danny Barcelona. During this
period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over thirty films. He
appeared 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 the oldest person to ever
accomplish that feat at age 63. In the process, Armstrong dislodged The
Beatles from the #1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with
three different songs.
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.
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!" shortening
Satchelmouth (some say unintentionally), and it stuck.
Early on he was also known as Dippermouth. This is a reference to
the propensity he had for refreshing himself with the dipper (ladle) from a
bucket of sugar water which was always present on stage with Joe Oliver's
band in Chicago in the early nineteen-twenties.
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. This did not stop Louis though, because after setting 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 honoured 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, in fact, was a major financial supporter of Dr. Martin Luther
King Jr. and other civil rights activists, but 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 cancelled 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.
The FBI kept a file on Armstrong, for his outspokenness about integration.
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, advertisements for Swiss Kriss; the ads bore a
picture of him sitting on a toilet — as viewed through a keyhole — with the
slogan "Satch says, 'Leave it all behind ya!'")
The concern with his health and weight was balanced by his love of food,
reflected in such songs as "Big Butter & Egg Man", "Cheesecake", "Cornet
Chop Suey", and, especially, "Struttin’ with Some Barbecue".
He kept a strong connection throughout his life to the cooking of New
Orleans, always signing his letters, "Red beans and ricely yours,".
Although Armstrong is not known to have fathered any children, he loved
children and would go out of his way to entertain the neighbourhood kids in
Corona, and to encourage young musicians.
Armstrong’s gregariousness extended to writing. On the road, he wrote
constantly. Many of the favourite themes of his life he shared with
correspondents around the world. He avidly typed or wrote on whatever
stationery was at hand, instant takes on music, sex, food, childhood
memories, his heavy “medicinal” marijuana use, and even his bowel movements,
which were gleefully described.
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.
In his early years, Armstrong was best known for his virtuosity with the
cornet and trumpet. The greatest trumpet playing of his early years can be
heard on his Hot Five and Hot Seven records. The improvisations which he
made on these records of New Orleans jazz standards and popular songs of the
day, to the present time stack up brilliantly alongside those of any other
later jazz performer. The older generation of New Orleans jazz musicians
often referred to their improvisations as "variating the melody";
Armstrong's improvisations were daring and sophisticated for the time while
often subtle and melodic. He often essentially re-composed pop-tunes he
played, making them more interesting. Armstrong's playing is filled with
joyous, inspired original melodies, creative leaps, and subtle relaxed or
driving rhythms. The genius of these creative passages is matched by
Armstrong's playing technique, honed by constant practice, which extended
the range, tone and capabilities of the trumpet. In these records, Armstrong
almost single-handedly created the role of the jazz soloist, taking what was
essentially a collective folk music and turning it into an art form with
tremendous possibilities for individual expression.
Armstrong's work in the 1920s shows him playing at the outer limits of
his abilities. The Hot Five records, especially, often have minor flubs and
missed notes, which do little to detract from listening enjoyment since the
energy of the spontaneous performance comes through. By the mid 1930s,
Armstrong achieved a smooth assurance, knowing exactly what he could do and
carrying out his ideas with perfectionism.
As his music progressed and popularity grew, his singing also became
important. Armstrong was not the first to record scat singing, but he was
masterful at it and helped popularize it. He had a hit with his playing and
scat singing on "Heebie Jeebies" when, according to some legends, the sheet
music fell on the floor and he simply started singing nonsense syllables. He
also sang out "I done forgot the words" in the middle of recording "I'm A
Ding Dong Daddy From Dumas". Such records were hits and scat singing became
a major part of his performances. Long before this, however, Armstrong was
playing around with his vocals, shortening and lengthening phrases,
interjecting improvisations, using his voice as creatively as his trumpet.
During his long career he played and sang with the most important
instrumentalists and vocalists; among the many, singing brakeman Jimmie
Rodgers, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith, and
notably with Ella Fitzgerald.
His influence upon Bing Crosby is particularly important with regard to
the subsequent development of popular music: Crosby admired and copied
Armstrong, as is evident on many of his early recordings, notably "Just One
More Chance" (1931). The New Grove Dictionary Of Jazz describes
Crosby's debt to Armstrong in perfect detail, although it does not
acknowledge Armstrong by name: "Crosby...was important in introducing into
the mainstream of popular singing an Afro-American concept of song as a
lyrical extension of speech...His techniques - easing the weight of the
breath on the vocal cords, passing into a head voice at a low register,
using forward production to aid distinct enunciation, singing on consonants
(a practice of black singers), and making discreet use of appoggiaturas,
mordents, and slurs to emphasize the text - were emulated by nearly all
later popular singers".
Armstrong recorded three albums with Ella Fitzgerald: Ella and Louis,
Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy and Bess for Verve Records.
His recordings Satch Plays Fats, all Fats Waller tunes, and Louis
Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy in the 1950s were perhaps among the last of
his great creative recordings, but even oddities like Disney Songs the
Satchmo Way are seen to have their musical moments. And, his
participation in Dave Brubeck's high-concept jazz musical The Real
Ambassadors was critically acclaimed. For the most part, however, his
later output was criticized as being overly simplistic or repetitive.
Armstrong had many hit records including "Stardust", "What a Wonderful
World", "When The Saints Go Marching In", "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "Ain't
Misbehavin'", and "Stompin' at the Savoy". "We Have All the Time in the
World" featured on the soundtrack of the James Bond film On Her Majesty's
Secret Service, and enjoyed renewed popularity in the UK in 1994 when it
featured on a Guinness advert. It reached number 3 in the charts on being
In 1964, Armstrong knocked the Beatles off the top of the Billboard Top
100 chart with "Hello, Dolly", which gave the 63-year-old performer a U.S.
record as the oldest artist to have a #1 song. In 1968, Armstrong scored one
last popular hit in the United Kingdom with the highly sentimental pop song
"What a Wonderful World", which topped the British charts for a month;
however, the single did not chart at all in America. The song gained greater
currency in the popular consciousness when it was used in the 1987 movie
Good Morning, Vietnam, its subsequent rerelease topping many charts
around the world. Armstrong even appeared on the 28 October 1970 Johnny
Cash Show, where he sang Nat "King" Cole's hit "Rambling Rose" and
joined Cash to re-create his performance backing Jimmie Rodgers on "Blue
Yodel # 9.""
Armstrong enjoyed many types of music, from the most earthy blues to the
syrupy sweet arrangements of Guy Lombardo, to Latin American folksongs, to
classical symphonies and opera. Armstrong incorporated influences from all
these sources into his performances, sometimes to the bewilderment of fans
who wanted Armstrong to stay in convenient narrow categories. Armstrong was
inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an early influence. Some
of his solos from the 1950s, such as the hard rocking version of "St. Louis
Blues" from the WC Handy album, show that the influence went in both
Radio, films and TV
Armstrong appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood films, usually playing
a band leader or musician. His most familiar role was as the bandleader
cum narrator in the 1956 musical, High Society, in which he sang
the title song and performed a duet with Bing Crosby on "Now You Has Jazz".
In 1947, he played himself in the movie New Orleans opposite Billie
Holiday, which chronicled the demise of the Storyville district and the
ensuing exodus of musicians from New Orleans to Chicago. He was the first
African American to host a nationally broadcast radio show in the 1930s. He
was heard on such radio programs as The Story of Swing (1937) and
This Is Jazz (1947), and he also made countless television appearances,
especially in the 1950s and 1960s, including appearances on The Tonight
Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Louis Armstrong has a record star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on 7601
Many of Armstrong's recordings remain popular. More than three decades
since his passing, a larger number of his recordings from all periods of his
career are more widely available than at any time during his lifetime. His
songs are broadcast and listened to every day throughout the world, and are
honored in various movies, TV series, commercials, and even anime and
computer games. "A Kiss to Build a Dream On" was included in the computer
game Fallout 2, accompanying the intro cinematic (and the year after
in the movie Sleepless in Seattle). His 1923 recordings, with Joe
Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band, continue to be listened to as documents of
ensemble style New Orleans jazz, but more particularly as ripper jazz
records in their own right. All too often, however, Armstrong recorded with
stiff, standard orchestras leaving only his sublime trumpet playing as of
interest. "Melancholy Blues," performed by Armstrong and his Hot Seven was
included on the Voyager Golden Record sent into outer space to represent one
of the greatest achievements of humanity. Most familiar to modern listeners
is his ubiquitous rendition of "What a Wonderful World."
Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, a self-described Armstrong admirer,
asserted that a 1952 Louis Armstrong concert at the Théâtre des
Champs-Élysées in Paris played a significant role in inspiring him to create
the fictional creatures called Cronopios that are the subject of a number of
Cortázar's short stories. Cortázar once called Louis Armstrong himself "Grandísimo
Cronopio" (Most Enormous Cronopio).
Armstrong also appears as a minor character in Harry Turtledove's
Timeline-191 series. When he and his band escape from a Nazi-like
Confederacy, they enhance the insipid mainstream music of the North.
Louis Armstrong is also referred to in The Trumpet of the Swan
along with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Three siblings in the film
are named Louis, Billie, and Ella. The main character, Louis, plays a
trumpet, an obvious nod to Armstrong.
In the original EB White book, he is referred to by name by a child who
hears Louis playing and comments "He sounds just like Louis Armstrong, the
famous trumpet player".
Louis Armstrong died of a heart attack on July 6, 1971, at age 69, the
night after playing a famous show at the Waldorf Astoria's Empire Room.
Shortly before his death he stated, "I think I had a beautiful life. I
didn't wish for anything that I couldn't get and I got pretty near
everything I wanted because I worked for it."
He was residing in Corona, Queens, New York City, at the time of his
passing. 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
Awards and honours
Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
in 1972, by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. This Special Merit
Award is presented by vote of the Recording Academy's National Trustees to
performers who, during their lifetimes, have made creative contributions of
outstanding artist significance to the field of recording.
||Male Vocal Performance
Grammy Hall of Fame
Recordings of Armstrong were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which
is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are
at least twenty-five years old, and that have "qualitative or historical
|Grammy Hall of
||Blue Yodel #9
(Standing on the Corner)
||Jimmie Rodgers (Featuring Louis Armstrong)
||All of Me
||Porgy and Bess
||with Ella Fitzgerald
||What a Wonderful World
||Mack the Knife
||St. Louis Blues
||Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong, cornet
||West End Blues
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed a songs by Armstrong of the 500
songs that shaped Rock and Roll.
||West End Blues
||Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five
Inductions and honours
In 1995, the U.S. Post Office issues a Louis Armstrong 32 cents
commemorative postage stamp.
||Long Island Music Hall of Fame
||Nesuhi Ertegün Jazz Hall of Fame
at Jazz at Lincoln Center
||Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
||Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame
||Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame
||Hollywood Walk of Fame
||at 7601 Hollywood Blvd.
On December 31, 1999, US President Bill Clinton announced that
Armstrong's trumpet was among several items of national memorabilia that
were to be interred in a Millennial time capsule to be opened 100 years
Today, the house where Louis Armstrong lived at the time of his death
(and which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977) is a museum.
The Louis Armstrong House & Archives, at 34-56 107th Street (between 34th
and 35th Avenues) in Corona, Queens, presents concerts and educational
programs, operates as an historic house museum and makes materials in its
archives of writings, books, recordings and memorabilia available to the
public for research. The museum is operated by the City University of New
York's Queens College, following the dictates of Armstrong’s will.
The museum was opened to the public on October 15, 2003. In 2005, it was
among 406 New York City arts and social service institutions to receive part
of a $20 million grant from the Carnegie Corporation, which was made
possible through a donation by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The influence of Armstrong on the development of jazz is virtually
immeasurable. Yet, his irrepressible personality both as a performer, and as
a public figure later in his career, was so strong that to some it sometimes
overshadowed his contributions as a musician and singer.
As a virtuoso trumpet player, Armstrong had a unique tone and an
extraordinary talent for melodic improvisation. Through his playing, the
trumpet emerged as a solo instrument in jazz and is used widely today. He
was a masterful accompanist and ensemble player in addition to his
extraordinary skills as a soloist. With his innovations, he raised the bar
musically for all who came after him.
Armstrong is considered by some to have essentially invented jazz
singing. Ethel Waters precedes his scatting on record in the 1930s according
to Gary Giddens and others (See Ken Burns' Jazz CD Set liner notes).
He had an extremely distinctive gravelly voice, which he deployed with 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
wordless vocalizing. Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra are just two singers
who were greatly indebted to him. Holiday said that she always wanted Bessie
Smith's 'big' sound and Armstrong's feeling in her singing.
On August 4, 2001, the centennial of Armstrong's birth, New Orleans'
airport was renamed Louis Armstrong International Airport in his honor.
In 2002, the Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings
(1925-1928) are preserved in the United States National Recording Registry,
a registry of recordings selected yearly by the National Recording
Preservation Board for preservation in the National Recording Registry of
the Library of Congress.
The US Open tennis tournament's former main stadium was named Louis
Armstrong Stadium in honor of Armstrong who had lived a few blocks from the
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