« Louis Armstrong »
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When one engages in the discussion of Jazz, one simply can not resist but to bring up the legacy of the legendary Louis Armstrong. For he, is the founding father of jazz. For he, is one who popularizes this original musical art form of the United States to the rest of the world. His contributions to American music are immeasurable. His spontaneity and creativity in musical improvisations are unmatched. His personality, spirit, combine with his musical talent is the inspiration that enlightens generations of musicians long after his time. “His influence, as an artist and cultural icon, is universal, unmatched, and very much alive today” (Louis Armstrong House and Archives).

As the Time magazine points out in its “Most Important People of the Century” online edition, “his life was the embodiment of one who moves from rags to riches, from anonymity to international imitated innovator” (Crouch). Louis Armstrong was born on August 4th, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Armstrong grew up in New Orleans, in a neighborhood known as the battlefield near Liberty and Perdido Streets. His father left his family during Armstrong’s infancy. A single parent household headed by his mother lived in stark poverty. Thus at a young age, Armstrong sang at street corners for coins, swept graves for tips, deliver coals, sold Newspapers and work on junk wagon to help support his family. According to the Louis Armstrong House and Archives, Armstrong purchased his first cornet with the money he loaned from the Karnofskys family which hired him to work on their junk wagon.

On December 31st 1912, Armstrong fires a pistol into the sky to celebrate New Year’s Eve and he was arrested then sent to the Colored Waif's Home for Boys. It is in the Colored Waif's Home for Boys where Armstrong first received his formal musical instruction. Eventually, he would become the band leader of the Waif’s Home. In June 1914, Armstrong was released from the Waif’s Home. Joe “King” Oliver, from the Kid Ory’s band became his teacher and mentor. Armstrong performed along with Oliver and the Kid Ory’s band. When Oliver left New Orleans for Chicago, Armstrong was to succeed him in the Kid Ory’s band. By 1918, Armstrong was well known around New Orleans as a musician. In 1919, Armstrong was hired by Fate Marable to perform in river boats that traveled the Mississippi river. Through this experience, playing with many prominent musicians of the time, Armstrong was able to further develop his musical skills, techniques and talent.

In 1922, Armstrong moved to Chicago. He joined King Oliver and his Creole Jazz band. In 1923, he made his first recording at the Gennett Studios in Richmond, Indiana, as a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. In 1924, Armstrong reluctantly left the Creole band for New York City to join the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom. His unique style of playing jazz set the city of New York on its head. The stiff rhythms of the time were soon slashed away by “his combination of the percussive and the soaring” (Crouch). In 1925, he recorded with Bessie Smith. In November the same year, he left the Fletcher Henderson band and once again returned to Chicago. After his return, he form a new group called the Hot Five. From 1925 to 1928, Armstrong continued a rigorous schedule of performing and recording. According to the Public Broadcasting Service website, these recordings include Heebie Jeebies, “the tune that introduced scat singing to a wide audience” and West End Blues which was one of the most famous recordings in early jazz.

In 1929, Armstrong returned to New York City. He performed at Connie's Inn with the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra. He also appeared in the Broadway show, Hot Chocolates. His 1929 recording of Ain’t Misbehavin introduced the use of pop song as material for jazz interpretation, helping set the stage for the popular acceptance of jazz that would follow. Time magazine essayist Stanley Crouch agreed by stating that “Armstrong bent and twisted popular songs with his horn and his voice until they were shorn of sentimentality and elevated to serious art”. During 1930, he performed around the country, including the state of California, in which he made his first film and radio appearances. In 1931, he recorded the song When It’s Sleepytime Down South, which would eventually became his theme song. In 1932, he toured England for three months in which he performed before the King of England. In the next few years, he continued his extensive tours at home and abroad, including a lengthy stay in Paris France. According to A Cultural Legacy, a web site funded by the National Endowment for Humanities and the New York State Council on the Arts, by the Late 1930s Louis Armstrong was one of the most significant artists in America. For his exceptional performances, he “had created a sensation in Europe” (A Cultural Legacy).

Louis finally returned home in 1935. Joe Glaser became his manager and would remain his manager for the rest of his career. Under Glaser’s management, Armstrong performed on the radio, in theater, on dance halls, night clubs, and in films. Glaser had helped transform Armstrong into an international star.

After World War 2 and through the years of the cold war, Armstrong constantly travel and performed around the world. He spread good wills of America through his music throughout the world. His tours included several that were sponsored by the State Department. This was how Armstrong gained his title of Ambassador Satch from all his fans in America and abroad. He was especially well received in the newly independent nations of Africa. According to the Cultural Legacy website, in a 1956 concert celebrating Ghana's independence, Armstrong was welcomed by more than 100,000 of his fans.

In the early 60s, Armstrong continued his recordings, including two albums with Duke Ellington and the hit Hello Dolly, a theme song for the movie with the same title. Hello Dolly was an instant hit which reached number one on the Billboard chart. Armstrong performed regularly until health problems gradually curtailed his trumpet playing and singing. Even in the last year of his life, he traveled to Landon twice, appeared in a dozen of TV shows, and performed in Newport Jazz Festival to celebrate his 70th birthday. According to the Louis Armstong House and Archives, he performed an average of 300 concerts each year during his career. His death on July 6, 1971, a few days before he was setting up band rehearsals in preparation to perform for his beloved public, was front page news around the world, and more than 25,000 mourners filed past his coffin as he lay in state at the New York National Guard Armory.

With his improvisation, Louis Armstrong defines what Jazz is. He sets standards for originality, creativity and spontaneity. His interpretation creates new musical vocabulary. His scat singing transforms vocal traditions. He is the musician that was loved by all, “like all the finer things in life, Armstrong is a developed taste, one of life’s contemplative pleasures; once sampled, once appreciated, his music and charm are open to be savored over and over, with a fresh enjoyment each time” (The Louis Armstrong Discography). That is exactly why historians come to agree “One name stand above the rest, not Gershwin or Porter, Lennon or Presley, it is, indeed, Louis Armstrong” (Crouch) when it comes to the most influential musicians in this Century.


Louis Armstrong House and Archives (2005). “Armstrong Biography”. [23 October 2005].

The Louis Armstrong Discography (2005). “Discography Intro”. [25 October 2005].

A Cultural Legacy (2005). “Louis Armstrong”. [28 October 2005].

Crouch, Stanley. (8 June 1998). “The Time 100 : Louis Armstrong”.
[1 November 2005].

Public Broadcasting Services. (2000). “Biographies Life and Times of the Great Ones”.
[3 November 2005].

Redhotjazz.com. (2005). “Louis Satchmo Armstrong”.
[5 November 2005].