As a kid, Armstrong was a born musician. He did many jobs at a young age to support his family, such as cleaning graves, selling coal, and singing on the street corners for pennies. Dwelling the city like this exposed Armstrong to all kinds of music. From the blues that played in the Storyville honky tonks to the brass bands that accompanied parades and funerals. Armstrong found all this music to be a great source of inspiration. Already having demonstrated his singing talents on the city streets, Armstrong eventually bought and taught himself to play a cornet. He knew from that moment on he wanted to become a musician.
Louis Armstrong was helped by a junk dealer whom he worked as a grade-school student to buy himself a cornet, this sparked an early interest in music for Armstrong. He dropped out of school at 11 to join an informal music group, but received his first formal music instruction at the Colored Waif's Home for Boys, where he was sent to for a year and a half as punishment for firing blanks during New Year’s Eve (allmusic.com). There, he was formally taught how to play an instrument for the home had a bandmaster who took interest in youth that taught him to play the bugle. He was also taught how to play his cornet. With this instruction, Armstrong instantly fell in love with music. He started to dream of becoming big in the music business when he was released from the institute. Even though he still had to work for money, he began to earn the reputation of a fine blues player. Joe “King” Oliver, one of the greatest cornet players in New Orleans, acted as a mentor to Armstrong, showing him pointers on playing the horn as Armstrong’s talents started to develop (encyclopedia.com).
Armstrong’s reputation as a musician continued to grow. From 1917 to 1922, Armstrong played the cornet for local Dixieland jazz bands. In 1918, Armstrong replaced Oliver in Kid Ory- a jazz trombonists- band. Kid Ory’s band was the most popular band at the time in New Orleans. Playing in the band eventually led to Armstrong being able to stop working manual labor jobs and instead, concentrate full time on his cornet. He played in parties, dances, funeral marches, and at local honkey-tonks. (Small bars that host musical acts.) At this time, Armstrong wasn’t able to read music that well, until 1919 where he spent his summers playing with a band led by Fate Marable on riverboats. This is when Armstrong started honing his music reading skills as well as having his first encounters with other jazz legends like Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden (biography.com). He also tried writing songs but unfortunately was only partially rewarded. “I wish I could Shimmy like My Sister Kate”, one of his compositions, was published. But, the company reportedly cheated him out of both byline and payment. Then, Oliver, a man who led a successful band in Chicago, came for Armstrong. Armstrong, as a second cornet player for Oliver, started to make his first recordings. He earned his first recorded solo in the song “Chimes Blues” (encyclopedia.com).
In 1924, Armstrong married one of his band mates, Lillian Hardin, who pushed her husband into cutting ties with Oliver and joining bandleader and arranger, Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra. The Orchestra at the time was the top African-American dance band in New York City. Armstrong was of great influence to Henderson and his arranger, Don Redman, who began putting Armstrong’s “swinging vocabulary” into their Arrangements (biography.com). This transformed Henderson’s band into what is regarded as the first jazz big band. Although that was a great success, Armstrong was unhappy with the Orchestra because his Southern background didn’t fit in with the more urban, Northern mentality of the other musicians in the band. He was also forbidden to sing because of his rough vocalization. Henderson feared that it was too coarse for the sophisticated audiences that they had. With that, Armstrong left Henderson’s Orchestra in...
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