Louis Armstrong: a Biography

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Many Americans enjoy sitting back, relaxing, and listening to the jazz and swing rhythms of one of the best musicians of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong. Louis Armstrong is easily recognized by simply listening to his infamous raspy voice and legendary, creative skill on the trumpet. All Armstrong had to do to play beautifully was to play one note. Louis Armstrong had a strong influence in music. His forte in jazz, ragtime, and swing was solo performing and improvisation. First, his dedication to music influenced jazz music and then later all popular music. I chose Louis Armstrong because of his love for music as well as his charismatic attitude towards life. A question I want to investigate more thoroughly is how and why Louis Armstrong impacted jazz and popular music.

Overview and Significance
Even though he was commonly believed to be born July 4, 1900, Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901. Armstrong’s father, Willie Armstrong, and mother, Mary Ann Armstrong, separated soon after Louis Armstrong was born (Cogswell, 2003). This caused him to live with his sister, mother and grandmother in the poorest section of New Orleans known as the “Battlefield” (Cogswell). Armstrong, also known as “Satchmo” and “Satch” due to his embouchure, spent most of his time with his friends singing for nickels and pennies and listening to local bands play in bars and brothels (Cogswell). Armstrong expressed his interest and talent when he was young in his personal writings; “After blowing the tin horn so long I wondered how would I do blowing a real horn, a cornet was what I had in mind. Sure enough, I saw a little cornet in a pawn shop window ... I saved 50 cents a week and bought the horn. All dirty but was soon pretty to me. After blowing into it a while I realized that I could play “Home Sweet Home” then here come the Blues. From then on, I was a mess and Tootin away” (Armstrong, 1999, p. 1). To attract customers for his Jewish employer, young Armstrong would play his tin horn on the streets of New Orleans, a place bustling with music- the blues, ragtime, and a new, emerging music described as jazz (Wallace, 2007). On New Year’s Eve of 1913, Louis Armstrong made a mistake which turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. Armstrong was arrested for firing a gun into the air on as a celebration for the New Year (Cogswell, 2003). As a consequence to shooting the pistol into the air, Armstrong was placed in the Colored Waif’s Home (Appell and Hemphill, 2006). The waif’s home was run by Peter Davis, the brass band leader who introduced the cornet to Armstrong. Armstrong was a natural; he joined the brass band and soon became the leader of the band (Bergreen, 1997). After he was released from the Colored Waif’s Home in 1914, Louis Armstrong worked in a variety of jobs including funerals, picnics, and dances and played in local bands (Cogswell, 2003). Then the famous Joe “King” Oliver, leader of the first great African American band to make records, befriended Armstrong and gave him stand-in slots at orchestras and other venues. Oliver became Armstrong’s mentor and sole musical influence (Cogswell). Oliver moved north to Chicago and Kid Ory, leader of the band the Brown Skinned Babies, offered Armstrong Oliver’s empty seat (Cogswell). Ory once said that after Armstrong joined them he, “…improved so fast it was amazing. He had a wonderful ear and a wonderful memory. All you had to do was hum or whistle a new tune to him and he’d know it right away” (Boujut, 1998, p. 21). In 1918, Armstrong married Daisy Parker, a prostitute he met at a dance hall he played at on Saturday nights (Cogswell, 2003). The marriage ended four years later due to Parker beating Armstrong regularly (Collier, 1983). In 1919, after his experience with Kid Ory’s band, Armstrong received the opportunity to play in Fate Marable’s Kentucky Jazz Band, which performed on a Mississippi riverboat. The riverboat traveled the Mississippi...
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