Louis Armstrong

What we play is life

Firsts of Many

Louis Armstrong was the first African American to accomplish many amazing things! He changed the lives of everyone in the US in so many ways! Here are just a few things that he accomplished for the first time in history!
  • First Jazz Musician to write an autobiography
  • First African American to get a featured billing in a Hollywood movie
  • First African American to host a nationally sponsored radio show
  • First African American to have a contract that stated that he would not play at a hotel he could not sleep at (due to segregation)
  • First Jazz musician to appear on the cover of TIME Magazine

Early Life

Born in a poor, rough and unfortunate New Orleans home on August 4, 1901, Louis Armstrong suffered through a childhood of poverty and sadness. It was said that his neighborhood was so poor it was nicknamed “the battlefield”. As a child, Louis’s father left him and his mom shortly after his birth and due to this, Louis’s mother turned to the lifestyle of becoming a prostitute. Since his father was never around and his mother was only there on occasions, Louis was mainly raised by his maternal grandmother until her last years of life.

Despite the poor conditions of his home, Armstrong still managed to help around the house and create a somewhat better life for himself. When Louis was little he would sit at the corner by his house at night and sing for loose change. Penny after penny, Armstrong saved up enough money to buy his own instrument, a cornet he came across at a local shop. At the age of 11, Armstrong was obligated to drop out of school and work for a Jewish family delivering coal and picking up trash. Although it may sound like an awful job, the family was very nice to Armstrong, offering him chances to eat dinner with them and suggesting that he sing more in his free time. Without their encouragement of Louis’s very early singing career, he might not have been the man that we know of today! On top of his job of delivering coal and picking up junk, Louis also managed to sing at events for small amounts of money. He managed to support his family at a very young age and learned powerful skills that made him the person he was.

A turn for the worst or the best?

On New Years Eve 1912, a young Louis Armstrong was out with his friends partying when a poor choice took the wrong turn for his life. When the clock struck midnight, Armstrong pulled out his stepfather’s pistol and shot it up into the air. A crack ran through the night sky and policemen arrested the 11 year old on the spot. Louis was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys as punishment for shooting the gun and had to say goodbye to the family he had left. Although this was definitely a sad moment in Louis’s life, when he arrived to the home his life quickly sprung into action. Louis was given weekly lessons on how to play his cornet and by 1914 when he was released, Louis knew what his true passion was; music.

Later on in life Louis was mentored by one of the greatest cornet players, Joe “King” Oliver and was often times put in as a sub when a player in Oliver's band was out. Armstrong married in the year 1918, at the age of 17, to Daisy Parker and adopted his cousin’s son Clarence when he was only three years old. Clarence’s mother died while giving birth and Clarence was raised by Louis for his entire life given that his mother was Louis's cousin. In 1918 Louis replaced Joe Oliver in Kid Ory’s Band, the most popular band in all of New Orleans. Louis’s reputation as a jazz musician rose rapidly after joining the band and eventually he became more and more popular around the area. Oliver later called up Armstrong from Chicago and offered him second cornet in his new band. Armstrong accepted and moved to Chicago by storm, releasing his first recorded solo “Chimes Blues” on April 5, 1923. Armstrong married again later that year and also joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, a top African American band in the country, but after Henderson forbid Armstrong to sing, Louis and his new wife left the premise. Traveling back and forth from Chicago to New York, during the time of 1925-1928 Armstrong recorded some of his most famous records with what was called the “Hot Five” and the “Hot Seven”. The “Hot Five” and the “Hot Seven” were groups of famous jazz singers at the time, one being Bessie Smith. During this time of Louis’s life he recorded many songs, a few of them are listed below.

Armstrong's "the Heebie Jeebies"

Louis Armstrong - Heebie Jeebies

Famous Songs By Louis Armstrong - Pre 1930s

Famous Songs by Louis Armstrong - Pre 1930

  • Louis Armstrong and His Hot 5

    • Cornet Chop Suey

    • Potato Head Blues

    • Heebie Jeebies

    • I Can’t Give you Anything but Love

    • Star Dust

    • Body and Soul

  • Duets with Earl Hines

    • Weather bird

    • West End Blues

Armstrong in Europe and Joe Glaser

In 1933 Louis Armstrong toured through Europe playing at various locations, becoming an even bigger star than before. Unfortunately in 1934 Louis had a fallout with his manager and was left stranded in Europe. At the same time he hurt his lip and was not able to play or sing for a good bit of time. Louis stayed in Europe to rest for a bit but when he returned to Chicago later in the year he had no record company, no band and pretty much no hope. On top of his downfall in the music career, Armstrong returned to his ex wife suing him, a still sore lip and issues with the American Mob. Thankfully Armstrong met up with Joe Glaser, a friend and manager of a club Louis used to play at, and begged for him to help. Joe Glaser had strong ties with Al Capone and was able to turn Louis’s life around in so many wonderful ways. A few months later Louis was back into performing, no longer had troubles with the American Mob and had a contract with Decca Records to record his music, all thanks to one Joe Glaser.

Life during the 50’s and 60’s

During the 50’s and 60’s Armstrong’s music was beginning to die out in the US but was booming overseas. He traveled through Europe, Asia, Africa and many other places sharing his music with the world. Unfortunately towards the end of the tour in 1959, his age caught up with him and he had a heart attack before his show in Spoleto, Italy but this did not stop him from going on! After taking a few weeks to recover, Armstrong was back on the road again performing 300/365 nights during the year of 1960! Two more years went by without him making any new music, but as soon as fans thought he was done a Broadway company called him to produce the song “Hello Dolly!” for their new show. The new song recorded by Armstrong shot through the charts and reached the number one position beating the Beatles down to number two. One of the last and most famous songs Armstrong ever recorded was his “What a Wonderful World”, a song unlike any of his others. His new tune became a number one hit around the world and was named his most lasting song, present in the 1968 film Good Morning, Vietnam. Unfortunately Armstrong died on June 6, 1971 during his sleep but he lived out a powerful, emotional and amazing life that influenced our world today.

Need a quick review?

Below is a simple video summarizing the life of Louis Armstrong.
Louis Armstrong - Mini Biography

"If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know."

What a Wonderful World

In Louis’s later years when on tour across the world, he wrote and performed the song “What a Wonderful World”. This was significant to his career because although it was unlike any of his other music, many people around the world fell in love with the song and it quickly reached the #1 position on the music charts in various different countries and places including England and South Africa. This song was one of his last recordings and when Louis was asked what it was about his answer was always that he was just thinking about his little home in Queens and how although it was small, it made him think about how great his life really was. I have included this song because it was titled as Armstrong’s longest lasting song and is still somewhat popular today. The piece is very recognizable and is still listened to in present day, on top of it’s role in present day society, the song has been used in many movies, one being Good Morning, Vietnam.
What a wonderful world - LOUIS ARMSTRONG.

Youtube video blocked? Here's another link to "What a Wonderful World"

Louis Armstrong and Christina Aguilera?

When you hear the name Louis Armstrong you most likely won’t think of the present day pop artist Christina Aguilera. Although the two may not seem the same, they actually share many common traits, one being that no matter how many setbacks they had/have in life, they still manage(d) to rise above the other artists and come out on top.

The biggest similarity both share is the fact that they had rather unfortunate childhoods. As mentioned above Louis Armstrong was born into a poor family and his father left right after he was born. On top of that, his mother turned to prostitution and Louis was left to live with his grandma. Also as a child, Louis was arrested for firing a gun on New Years and was sent to a boys home. Sadly, Aguilera’s life wasn't much better. When she was young, Aguilera’s father was an immigrant to the US and became a sergeant in the army. He was a very abusive husband and it wasn't until she was six that Aguilera, her mother, and sister were able to escape the madness. Although leaving her abusive father scarred her for life, Aguilera still lived out a great childhood and learned of her musical talents at a young age, similar to Armstrong. When Aguilera was 9 she idolized Etta James, a popular jazz singer that is still very famous to this day. Louis was also fond of jazz music during his life and both artists were very popular singers at a young age. In addition to the comparisons already made, Louis Armstrong was very fond in the subject of scat singing, a way of improv while singing wordless vocals. Christina picked up on this style of singing at a young age and uses it in many of her songs, another similarity to Armstrong.

To add to the list of correspondence, both artists found themselves caught up in a bit of “drama” during their lifetime. When Armstrong married his first wife, Daisy Parker, in the year of 1918, news spread fast throughout the town due to the fact that she was a prostitute. Many fights and arguments were held about Armstrong’s marriage since Daisy was a prostitute. This resulted in quite a disturbance and many disagreements between friends, family and the society of where Louis was living. Aguilera had a similar complication when she released her hit single “Genie in a Bottle”. Before the release, Aguilera was only associated with The All New Mickey Mouse Club and Disney movie Mulan. Her release of a rather “scandalous” song was a shocking disturbance to people of Hollywood and caused a commotion in the world of singers. Although the two singers had a few setbacks in their life, they used this pain and emotion to write and perform songs which made them even better people than before. Both Aguilera and Armstrong also have very distinct voices that are both beautiful and very recognizable since their style of music is unlike any other. In addition to this, Aguilera released an album titled “Back to Basics” and said that she inspired by Jazz/ Blue’s singers of the 1920’s and that she tried to mix their distinct style of music with present day beats to create a new style.

So sure you can say that these two artists look nothing alike or they weren't even born in the same place, but in the end their voices and lifestyles do match up and isn't that all that matters? Both artists took their rough beginnings and turned them into emotional songs that are forever known around the world. They broke barriers of society, pushed against the limits and turned their complications into music that will forever influence our society.

Below is a sample of one of Christina's performances

Christina Aguilera ★ Herbie Hancock @ Live 720p HD

Influence on american culture

Louis Armstrong is often known as the first great influence in jazz and has also been known as one of the most influential artists in jazz history. He broke through many barriers in the jazz industry that had never been reached before and changed the likeliness of jazz all throughout the world. Louis played a great role in the American society of the 1920’s by showing people that no matter the skin color, he could do the same things as anyone else. Armstrong was the first African American to host a nationally sponsored radio film, first jazz musician to be on the cover of TIME magazine and many other “firsts” that shocked the people of the US. On top of this, Louis traveled all other the world and was known “Ambassador Satch” to many. He took his downfalls and pain and turned the unfortunate experiences into emotional song lyrics that were relatable by many people at the time. Using his powerful words and music, Louis changed the culture of both jazz music and people during the 1920's. Louis Armstrong’s impact of life still exists today in both the jazz music we hear and in many other various ways. Louis’s star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame still rests there today and so does his original home of Queens, NY. (now named the Louis Armstrong House Museum) Armstrong influenced so many young and upcoming artists both in the past and present and without him the society of both jazz musicians and all people would not be the same today.