July 6th, 2005
Louis Armstrong
About Louis Armstrong

“Louis Armstrong is jazz. He represents what the music is all about.” — Wynton Marsalis

From a New Orleans boys’ home to Hollywood, Carnegie Hall, and television, the tale of Louis Armstrong’s life and triumphant six-decade career epitomizes the American success story. His trumpet playing revolutionized the world of music, and he became one of our century’s most recognized and best loved entertainers. Now, thirty years after his death, Armstrong’s work as an instrumentalist and vocalist continue to have a profound impact on American music. As a black man living and working in a segregated society, he symbolized the civil rights struggle that was part of the changing America in which he lived.

Born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was heir to the poverty suffered by Southern blacks at the turn of the century. At the age of eleven, Armstrong began to develop an interest in music, harmonizing on street corners and playing a toy horn. Arrested for disturbing the peace, on New Year’s Eve, 1913, he was remanded to the New Orleans Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. In and out of the home throughout his teenage years, Armstrong was taken under the wing of Peter Davis, who taught music there. Under Davis’s tutelage, Armstrong joined a band, and his talent blossomed. He left the Waif’s Home in 1914, and began to play the cornet around New Orleans. In 1921, at the invitation of the great cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, Armstrong moved to Chicago.

In the 1920s, Armstrong performed with a number of different musical groups, and began to revolutionize the jazz world with his introduction of the extended solo. Prior to his arrival, jazz music was played either in highly orchestrated arrangements or in a more loosely structured “Dixieland”-type ensemble in which no one musician soloed for any extended period. Musicians everywhere soon began to imitate his style, and Armstrong himself became a star attraction. His popularity was phenomenal, and throughout the 1920s he was one of the most sought-after musicians in both New York and Chicago. Armstrong’s HOT FIVE and HOT SEVEN recordings remain to this day some of the best loved of the time.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s Armstrong maintained one of the most grueling continual tours of all time. He began playing with the large bands that were popular at the time, but soon realized that his style was better suited to a smaller ensemble. With the help of manager, Joe Glaser, he formed Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. The band, which had a rotating cast of “all stars,” first included Jack Teagarden, Barney Bigard, Earl Hines, and Big Sid Catlett. Though many believed the 40s marked the beginning of a decline of Armstrong’s playing, the recordings bear out his continued technical proficiency, spirited interpretations, and the depth and soul of his playing during these years.

The 1950s proved to be a regeneration for Armstrong as both a musician and a public figure. Though he had been singing since his early days in Chicago, it was not until the 1950s that audiences recognized his remarkable skill as a singer as well. His rough and throaty voice became, almost instantly, the internationally recognized voice of jazz itself. His 1956 recording with Ella Fitzgerald of George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” was one of the most popular and best loved duets of the 1950s. For many, his “scat” singing was the perfection of a genre just then in its infancy. With his increasing fame, however, came the criticism of a black community that felt he was not living up to the responsibilities of the times. The late fifties brought with them the civil rights movement, and many blacks saw Armstrong as an “uncle tom,” playing for primarily white audiences around the world. Though adamant that these claims were unjust, Armstrong was then in his sixties and primarily concerned with continuing to travel and perform.

Armstrong spent the final decade of his life in the same way that he had spent the four previous — entertaining audiences throughout the world. In 1971, he died of a heart attack in New York City. Though the history of jazz is filled with many exceptional and innovative musicians, it is hard to find any one who has had as profound an influence on the movement as Louis Armstrong. Armstrong’s legacy is more than simply his virtuoso trumpet playing (for which nearly every trumpet player since seems indebted), but his great formal innovations as well. His commitment to the search for new forms in jazz and his continued heartfelt performances will remain a major symbol not only of the musical life, but of the entire cultural life of 20th-century America.

  • roman

    thank you i needed the information

  • chubby chaser

    this is my favorite black person

  • heyy

    mama

  • troy

    i love louis

  • Richard Massicott

    Louis was my inspiration when I started trumpet in the 50s, played professionally and enjoyed many forms of jazz ever since.

  • ogunsen

    dudes, please let’s share some ideas about Louis in broader aspects…
    he was the one making the jazz a world wide popular phenomena…

  • Queer Man 123

    My Fav Song By Louis Armstrong is What A Wonderful World :)

  • Queer Man 123

    What A Wonderful World is a Great Song

  • yowan

    I can’t believe that he got put in jail for disturbing the peace…. that was and interesting fact that I never knew before

  • Sam

    He is a great inspiration. What a wonderful world is one of my favs !

  • mark hettinger

    the greatset trumpet player ever no one could compare

  • Heather M.

    I thought he played the cornet, not trumpet. The Boys home was calls Waif home for colored boys. There he received his first official music lessons but before he unofficially studied with Papa Joe, his father figure and idol.

  • sergio flores

    Louis Armstrong has been my idol since i was twelve. He tought me to love and appreciate music for what it is. my entire outlookon jazz has changed because of him. I hope to one day write good jazz music like him.

  • israel

    i am 12 years old and i am going to be louis armstrong for a muesem i really enjoy him he is like a brother to me.

    israel :) louis armstrong may rest in peace

  • Grace Landi

    I watched a movie with LOUIS ARMSTRONG WHEN HE HAD BECOME RICH AND famous in it he had a white chauffer, while driving through a backwoods town somewhere down South, nobody had heard of him and when they saw he ws driven by a white chauffer they wanted to LYNCH HIM because he thought he was an uppitty n——-er. I believe the movie was the LOUIS ARMSTRONG STORY correct me if I am wrong…….. It made quite an impression on me.
    He was quite an actor but the role he had to play in the film was a very impressive one. I am sure he had to relive a reallife incident. Made me rethink what America was like with all it’s prejudices, and still is though it is getting a lot more tolerant, I THINK!!!!!! I THINK HE was A VERY Wonderful guy…RIP Louis……….Sorry we were so mean to you………..An ADMIRER…………………………..

    ARMSTROG

  • youssef rakha

    It’s a pity that your research touches so lightly and superficially in reference to Louis Armstrong’s technical proficiency and musical knowledge. Mr. Armstrong wrote a serious method book for trumpet up to par with the standard method books of today. He made it all seem so easy and natural, the mark of a master artist of his craft.
    He was also the consummate business man who helped groom Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway among others.

  • pieguy

    Louis Armstrong is the best I’m doing a report on him and i still need to find a sideways time line with numbers and an real line and where and when he did things like when he was born and when he was put in a juvenile detention center and when he became famous.

  • amy

    Louis Armstrong is the best I’m doing a report on him and i still need to find a sideways time line with numbers and an real line and where and when he did things like when he was born and when he was put in a juvenile detention center and when he became famous.he is so cool

  • alicia

    louis armstrong is the best but i still dont know why he was put in a juvenile detention center and when he became famous. but i am reaserching that now

  • Rosiie Posiie

    Man oh man, Louis Armstrong is amazing. He led an encredible life and mad fantastic music. Thanks to him we now have scat, one of my favourite styles of music in the world. What a wonder man…

  • lashay knight

    ”mywholelife,mywholesoul,mywholespirit is to blow that horn” mean to louis armstrong

  • Gail

    He started on Cornett. He switched to trumpet in Chicago.

  • Space

    Everytime i see photos of Armstrong, or hear his songs, they bring back memories of my late father who also played trumpet and was inspired by Louis Armstrong. My father looked like Louis Armstrong, and he also died at age 71.

  • Linda King

    i watched the life story of louis armstrong and would love a copy in dvd form of it if i can purchase it..my son in law who is a parisan..born and raised in paris france is in love with louis armstrong and i am looking for this as a gift for him..please advise as to how i can purchase this session i watched on channel 12 new orleans for him..thank you..linda king

  • Tom Cox

    Satchmo’s personality, horn and style has touched my heart and soul for 73 many years…In 1946 while he was touring the South, North Carolina, I was previleged to be able to sit inside the fence surrounding the Stage on which his band played……..I was so elated listening that I also watched every move he made with ..”That Famous White Handkerchief ” which he always held in his left hand as he played his horn. Lord,Lord what style….

  • Barbra

    he is the best person ever!

  • Richard

    Few would dispute the fact that Satchmo had the greatest influence on world music of any American. I’ve enjoyed his music for over 60 years. he taught me a lot about trumpet playing when I interviewed him for a newspaper at one of the number of concerts of his that I attended in the 1950s and ’60s. His trumpet technique was flawless, and he had the most powerful sound of any instrumentalist I’ve ever heard. The musicians in most of the early bands he recorded with were not up to the standard of his own later All-Stars bands,and that accounts for the unevenness of the body of recorded music that he has left us. But of the hundreds of songs he’s recorded, there are a few dozen that will remain at the top of the list of greatest jazz ever played.
    He could take a routine pop song, add his touches to it, and make the piece shine in a way that the original composer of it never even envisioned. His improvisational talents bordered on genius.
    Pops has brightened the lives of many people with his music, mine own included. What a wonderful man!

  • John

    Wow he was a great insperation for me playing trumpet esspecaly his famous phrase “All music is folk music, I aint never heard a hose sing a song”

  • #1fan

    Louis Armstrong is awesome

  • Dragon

    This man puts the music in musical history

Inside This Episode

  • About Louis Armstrong

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