BIRTH: August 4, 1901,
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
DEATH: July 6, 1971,
Queens, New York, U.S.
Louis Daniel Armstrong was an African- American jazz trumpeter and singer. He was popularly referred to as “Satchmo”, “Pops” and “Ambassador Satch”.
He was born on 4th August, 1901 in the “Battlefield” area of New Orleans, Louisiana. His father, Willie Armstrong, was a turpentine Worker. His mother’s name was Mary Armstrong. His father left them shortly after his birth. He used to live with his maternal grandmother for long periods of time. Armstrong left school in the fifth grade to start earning. He used to sing in the streets as a child. He also worked with a Jewish family named the Karnofskys. There, his work was to collect junk and sell coal.
In 1913, he was sent to Colored Waif’s Home for Boys for firing his stepfather’s gun in the air during a New Year’s Eve celebration. There he learned to play the cornet and found his passion for music. He learned music from several mentors including Buddy Petit, Kid Ory and Joe “King” Oliver, one of the finest cornet players whom he befriended.
In 1918, Armstrong took Oliver’s position in Kid Ory’s band. It was the most popular jazz band in New Orleans. He moved to Chicago in 1922 and became a part of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. His first recordings with the band include “Chimes Blues” (1923) and “Tears”. Armstrong joined Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in New York City in 1924 in search of further fame. It was the top African American dance band at the time. He returned to Chicago a year later and composed his most significant works with Okeh Records, namely ‘Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five! From 1925 to 1928 Armstrong recorded about sixty jazz records with ‘Hot Five, that later became the ‘Hot Seven. Armstrong also recorded with pianist Earl Hines and drummer Zutty Singleton in 1928. They composed “Weather
Bird” and “West End Blues”.
Armstrong did many concerts all around the world in the 1930s. He bagged a role in the Broadway production of Hot Chocolates directed by Leonard Harper in 1929. In 1936, he played the lead role in the movie Pennies from Heaven. In the following year, he hosted a radio show, ‘Fleischmann’s Yeast Hour’ for twelve weeks. Thus, he became the first African-American to host a nationally sponsored broadcast.
Some of his greatest recordings are “Swing That Music”, “Jubilee” and “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue”. He toured and performed in Europe, Africa and Asia in the 1950s. CBS reporter Edward R. Murrow and his crew covered his events and created a documentary named Satchmo the Great in 1957. In the December of 1964 his title for a Broadway show, “Hello, Dolly” topped the music charts. He also toured the Communist countries of East Berlin and Czechoslovakia in 1965. He composed a ballad called “What a Wonderful World” in 1967 which hit the number one spot in the UK Singles charts.
The Academy of Recording Arts and Science posthumously honored Louis Armstrong with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972. Armstrong’s recordings were inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame. Armstrong’s “West End Blues” was a part of the ‘500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll’ by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960. The U.S. Post Office issued a Louis Armstrong postage stamp in 1995. He was also inducted to the DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1952.
He was married four times. His last marriage was to singer Lucille Wilson in 1942. Armstrong never had a child from any of his marriages. However, in 2012, Sharon Preston claimed to be his biological daughter as she possessed letters written by the singer. Armstrong had also paid for her education and home. This reveals that Armstrong believed Sharon to be his daughter.
Armstrong’s health began to deteriorate around the 1960s. He started suffering from heart problems. On 6th July, 1971, he died in his sleep at his home in Queens, New York. He passed a month before his seventieth birthday.
In 1977, Armstrong’s home in Corona, Queens was declared a National Historic Landmark. His home became the Louis Armstrong House Museum. The autobiographies published by Armstrong are Swing That Music (1936) and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954). Armstrong was one of the greatest musicians of the 20th century. His contribution, both as a trumpeter and as vocalist, and to the evolution of jazz is tremendously significant.