Louis as a teenager in New Orleans with his mother Mayann and sister Beatrice

 


Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five, 1926

 


Louis in Nigeria on a State Department sponsored tour, 1960

 


Louis Armstrong on cover of Time magazine Feb 21, 1949

Biography of Louis Daniel Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans in the Storyville District known as "the Battlefield" on August 4, 1901. He left school at the 5th grade to help support his family. He sang on street corners, sold newspapers and delivered coal.

He went to the Colored Waif's Home for shooting a gun to celebrate New Year's Eve on December 31, 1912. He learned to play the bugle cornet and to read music from Peter Davis at the Waif's Home. After 18 months, he left the Waif's Home determined to become a musician.

Armstrong first married Daisy Parker as his career as a musician developed.

King Oliver succeeded in encouraging Armstrong to move to Chicago to join his band. While in Chicago, Armstrong married Lil Hardin on February 4, 1924. Lil was a graduate of Fisk University and an excellent pianist who could read, write and arrange music. She encouraged and enhanced Armstrong's career. Some of the Jazz icon's most important and successful work was accomplished with his Hot Fives and Hot Sevens Bands. They separated in 1931 and later divorced in 1938. Louis married Alpha Smith in 1938 after his divorce from Lil.

During that time, Armstrong became very popular and one of the genre's most sought after trumpeters. He traveled a great deal and spent considerable time in Chicago and New York. He first moved to the Big Apple in 1924 to join Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra. Armstrong stayed in New York for a while but moved back to Chicago in October of 1925. He later went back to New York in 1929.

While maintaining a vigorous work schedule, as well as living and travelling back and forth to Chicago and California, Armstrong moved back to New York in the late 1930s and later married Lucille Wilson in 1942. He remained there until his death on July 6, 1971. He left his entire estate to Lucille, his beloved wife.

Louis Armstrong was the most important creative force in the early development and perpetuation of America's music, Jazz. His influence, as an artist and cultural icon, is universal, unmatched, and very much alive today.

According to the website for the Louis Armstrong House Museum: "Louis Armstrong's achievements are remarkable." During his career, he:

  • Developed a way of playing jazz, as an instrumentalist and a vocalist, which has had an impact on all musicians to follow.

  • Recorded hit songs for five decades, and his music is still heard today on television and radio and in films.

  • Wrote two autobiographies, more than ten magazine articles, hundreds of pages of memoirs, and thousands of letters.

  • Was the only Black Jazz musician to publicly speak out against school segregation in 1957.

  • So popular that warring sides in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa temporarily stopped fighting in 1960 to attend an Armstrong concert.

  • Appeared in more than thirty films (over twenty were full-length features) as a gifted actor with superb comic timing and an unabashed joy of life.

  • Composed dozens of songs that have become jazz standards.

  • Performed an average of 300 concerts each year, with his frequent tours to all parts of the world earning him the nickname "Ambassador Satch," and became one of the first great celebrities of the twentieth century.

Through the years, Louis entertained millions, from heads of state and royalty to the kids on his stoop in Corona. Despite his fame, he remained a humble man and lived a simple life in a working-class neighborhood. To this day, everyone loves Louis Armstrongójust the mention of his name makes people smile."

Special thanks to Michael Cogswell, Ricky Riccardi and Louis Armstrong House Museum for their invaluable help and resources.

For more information on Louis Armstrong:

Louis Armstrong House Museum
34-56 107 Street
Corona, Queens, NY 11368
718-478-8274
Fax: 718-478-8299
www.louisarmstronghouse.org

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