Louis Armstrong: History & Major Accomplishments
Louis Armstrong (born Aug. 4, 1901, New Orleans, Louisiana—died July 6, 1971, New York City, New York), American jazz artist who is unanimously considered as the greatest jazz player in history. He is also noted for his masterpieces like “What a Wonderful World”, “Star Dust”, and “Hello, Dolly!”. His version of “Hello, Dolly!” received an induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001.
Armstrong could simply do it all; he was an all-round entertainer: a great singer, bandleader, actor, and comedian.
Although on record, Louis Armstrong’s date of birth is in 1901, the jazz artist usually claimed that he was born in 1900. His full name was Louis Daniel Armstrong.
His father, a factory worker, bailed out on the family a few months after the birth of Louis Armstrong. As a result of the dire financial situation, his mother intermittently made a living as a prostitute. Armstrong was left in the care of his maternal grandmother until he was 5 years old.
Louis Armstrong left school at an early age, probably in his fifth grade. This decision of his was necessitated by his family’s poor finances, as he had to work to supplement his family’s income. He worked as a delivery boy, supplying coal, and also selling newspapers. One of his employers, a Jewish family, were the ones who encouraged him to sing.
Louis Armstrong was born in an era when jazz music was relatively in its nascent years. As a kid, his passion for music was evident for everyone to see. He was a key member of a local boys’ quartet in New Orleans. Simply put, jazz music was Armstrong’s go-to, his escape, and his saving grace.
Louis Armstrong’s troubling childhood
Exacerbated by the dire financial situation of his family, Louis Armstrong’s teenage years were extremely rough. By the time he was 13 years of age, this future jazz genius had got caught up with a bad group of friends. After firing his stepfather’s gun in the air on New Year’s Eve in 1912, he was arrested. For his rogue behavior the teenager was placed in the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.
Kid Ory band
The reform center was a blessing in disguise as it was at that very place that Armstrong began honing his skills in music. He is said to have begun mastering the cornet. With the help of his local band, Armstrong blossomed into a very good musician.
He religiously listened to early jazz musicians and pioneers like King Oliver, a famous New Orleans cornetist. The more he played with his local band as well as marching bands, the better his skills became.
It did not take too long for Armstrong to rise among jazz players in New Orleans. In 1918, he received a call up into the Kid Ory band, succeeding his role model King Oliver.
Armstrong’s meteoric rise
As time went on Armstrong’s musical prowess had begun to catch the attention of many key stakeholders in the industry. One of such personalities was Armstrong’s role model King Oliver, who by then was dazzling patrons of jazz music in Chicago.
Oliver invited Armstrong to his band Creole Jazz Band as a second cornetist. The young musician had the pleasure of working alongside renowned artists Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin, and Johnny Dodds.
Along with King Oliver, Armstrong, who played second cornet, helped transform the fortunes of the band.
Solo career and records
Receiving critical acclaim for his cornet duet passages (known as “breaks”), Armstrong would go on to make his first solo records “Tears” and “Chimes Blues” (1923). His band mate and later wife Lil Hardin assisted him in composing those songs.
After gaining enough credibility in the industry, Armstrong decided to go solo. He had a few collaborations with New York City-based bandleader and pianist Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952).
A clash of cultures between Armstrong, a jazz artist with strong southern background, and Henderson’s New York City-based band resulted in Armstrong parting ways with the band in 1925.
Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five
From 1925 to around 1928, he was signed on to OKeh Records. He came out with more than 60 records in that period while working with his band Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five. The band later became the Hot Seven. Their records rank up there as some of the most important in jazz music history.
Some of his famous solos include “Cornet Chop Suey” and “Potato Head Blues”. His swinging phrases, high notes and rhythmic choices were some of most endearing qualities.
He is also credited with popularizing “scat singing” beginning around 1926 with his “Heebie Jeebies” record. In 1926, he switched from cornet to trumpet.
Armstrong and Earl Hines
Around the late 1920s, he collaborated with Earl Hines, a Pittsburg pianist who was a long admirer of Armstrong. Hines incorporated Armstrong’s style into his craft on so many occasions.
Armstrong and Hines collaborated to produce some of the greatest jazz songs in history, including 1928 songs like “Weather Bird” and “West End Blues”.
Major Achievements of Louis Armstrong
Armstrong is praised as the first prominent jazz soloist
Beginning around the mid-1920s, Armstrong’s music career took an even more upward trajectory when he started playing in large orchestras in Chicago. It was in Chicago that he recorded his first few music hits such as the Armstrong Hot Five and Hot Seven.
Those records helped establish him as the most prominent jazz soloist at the time. His musical prowess, including his style and technique, set him miles apart from other upcoming jazz soloist in New Orleans.
Some of the great works that he came out with around that time include hits like “Wild Man Blues”, Hotter than That”, and Potato Head Blues”.
Developed a technique that was close to flawless
Louis Armstrong holds the honor as the greatest jazz artist of all time simply because he had a technique was immaculately close to flawless. Playing the trumpet, Armstrong took the jazz music genre by storm in the late 1920s. He was praised for his sharp sense of harmony as well as his ability to time his inflections. He was no ordinary trumpeter, dazzling jazz patrons with his on stage performance which complemented his well-crafted melodies. Those techniques of his were some of the reasons why jazz music became popular in America.
He had tremendous influence on jazz artists and other musicians that followed
Jazz artist and genius Armstrong was important in the transforming jazz as novelty art form into a full-fledged music genre. He paid careful attention to his technique, which in turn allowed him to fully express his emotions and be more sensitive on stage. It’s been noted that his phrasing was emulated by the likes of Bud Freeman and Coleman Hawkins. Similarly, his swing-style when playing the trumpet influenced majority of jazz horn players. Great musicians like Billie Holiday and Bing Crosby were inspired by Armstrong’s supple vocal style.
Louis Armstrong made a big splash in other entertainment genres
In addition to performing in big bands and going on nonstop stops across the world, Armstrong was also noted for his acting. It’s been estimated that he featured in close to three dozen films. His last film appearance was in 1969 in Hello, Dolly! which was directed by Gene Kelly (1912-1996)
His good humor was just one of the reasons why he was endearing whenever he made radio and television appearances.
Films like Pennies from Heaven (1936), New Orleans (1947) and Hello, Dolly! (1969) are some of the reasons why many historians praise Louis Armstrong as an all-round entertainer and one of the greatest celebrities of the 20th century.
Other notable accomplishments of Louis Armstrong
- For more than half a century, Louis Armstrong remained one of the most famous faces in the African-American community. His hit songs dominated the music industry, particularly the jazz landscape, in that period as well.
- His energy levels were simply off the charts. It’s been estimated that took up to 300 concerts each year. While on those nonstop global tours, he earned the nickname “Ambassador Satch”. Other nicknames of this jazz genius are “Satchmo” and “Pops”.
- He is credited with composing many masterpieces, i.e. jazz songs that are timeless and still continue to inspire modern artists.
- Louis Armstrong penned two very brilliant autobiographies: Swing That Music (1936) and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954). In addition to those works, he wrote many magazine articles.
- Louis Armstrong’s 1960 concert in the central African country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo caused two warring sides into a temporary cease fire.
- His popularity increased even further after his record label, OKeh Records, allowed him to cover pop songs of the day. Most notable examples of those songs include “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Body and Soul”.
Louis Armstrong’s significance and most famous songs
In 1936, he became the first African American jazz musician to write an autobiography. The book was titled Swing That Music. He is also the first African American celebrity to appear in a major Hollywood movie. The movie he appeared in was Pennies from Heaven (1936). In 1937, Louis Armstrong became the first African American to host a nationally sponsored radio show.
Louis Armstrong’s illustrious career saw him secure nineteen “Top Ten” records. Some of those records were “Stardust”, “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, “You Rascal You”, “What a Wonderful World”, and “Stompin’ at the Savoy”. His song “We Have All the Time in the World” attained No. 3 in the UK in 1994 after it was re-released.
His song “Hello, Dolly!” (1964), which topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, even beating The Beatles, is testimony to just how influential he was in the music industry.
Louis Armstrong and the Little Rock Nine
Initially, Armstrong was not a known figure in the civil rights movement. As a matter of fact, he was criticized for his inability to use his fame and reputation to condemn the deplorable civil right situation in the U.S. at the time.
Louis Armstrong perhaps had had enough of the situation after seeing Arkansas governor Orval Faubus use the National Guard to prevent African American students (i.e. the Little Rock Nine) from accessing a public school (Little rock Central High School). The jazz icon went all berserk and slammed the U.S. government (then during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower) for its continued racial segregation in public schools. Armstrong was praised for his bold move considering the fact that he was perhaps the only African-American jazz artist to criticize racial segregation in schools.
More Louis Armstrong facts
In his movie career, he made appearances alongside topnotch actors like Martha Raye and Mae West. Here are a few more notable facts about Louis Armstrong:
- Armstrong was described as a very down to earth man despite his fame and riches. He maintained a house in a working-class neighborhood for quite a long time.
- The neighborhood (i.e. in New Orleans, Louisiana) that Armstrong grew up in as child was so deplorable that it was given the nickname “The Battlefield”.
- It’s been claimed that he was sterile as he had no children in all four marriages of his. He and his fourth and final wife Lucille Wilson tried for years to have children, but had no success.
- Armstrong’s “Hello, Dolly!” – title number for a Broadway show – was released in 1964. The song went top of the pop music charts in May 1964. In 2001, Armstrong’s version of the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
- He was one of the few artists from the West who could penetrate the “Iron Curtain” of the Soviet Union, with his performances in East Berlin and Czechoslovakia in 1965.
- During his tour of Europe in 1933, he lips became sore due to his blowing of high notes.
- Armstrong collaborated with artists like Sidney Bechet and Bessie Smith.
“What a Wonderful World”
At the time that Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” was released (In 1967), it did not receive much acclaim probably because the jazz musician’s record company did not promote it that much. Regardless, the song, a ballad with no trumpet, attained No. 1 spots in many countries around the world, including the UK and South Africa.
Interlaced with angelic voices, Armstrong’s “What a wonderful World” is one of his most-beloved songs. The song’s lyrics contain a theme of optimism by entreating the listener to appreciate the goodness of life and all its beauty and color.
The song, which featured in Robin Williams’ 1986 film Good Morning, Vietnam, has been covered by many artists, including American singer Roy Clark, Canadian singer Céline Dion, and British musician Rod Stewart, among others.How did Louis Armstrong die?
Towards the later part of the 1960s, Louis Armstrong’s health had begun to deteriorate as he battled heart and kidney problems. Those health issues forced him to stop performing in 1969. That same year, tragedy struck when his long-time manager Joe Glaser died. Armstrong tried to marshal a few performances here and there, but it was obvious that he did not have the stamina to keep on going. Years of unhealthy lifestyle had caught up with him.
On July 6, 1971, the jazz legend died in his sleep in his home in Corona, Queens, New York. His home was converted into a National Historic Landmark in 1977. The building also houses the Louis Armstrong House Museum, which receives thousands of visitors annually.
Louis Armstrong’s spouses
His first marriage (in 1918) was to a Red-light district worker called Daisy Parker. No sooner had the marriage begun than did it get hit by irreconcilable differences and accusations of violence. He said to have adopted a three-year-old boy called Clarence, who was his second cousin. Armstrong took good care of Clarence, a child who suffered brain injuries at an early age.
He married his band mate pianist Lil Hardin in 1924. Armstrong and Hardin separated in 1931. The divorce was finalized in 1938. It was Hardin who encouraged Armstrong to break away from his mentor King Oliver’s band in Chicago.
Armstrong married Alpha Smith. Similar to his first two marriages, this marriage was an unhappy one and divorced in 1942.
In 1942, he married Lucille Wilson, a club dancer. He and Wilson made residence at his Queens, New York City home from 1943 to 1971 when he died.