A Tribute to Louis Armstrong

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A Tribute to Louis Armstrong

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Louis Armstrong was the greatest jazz musician who ever lived. I say this not only because of his playing, but because of the influence both his playing and singing had on other musicians, and because of what he did to spread jazz throughout the world. Among these efforts were appearances in over 40 films, mostly as himself. Though his appearances were limited, due to the racism of the 30s-50s when he was in his prime, they were memorable, and when he showed up, people knew they were going to hear jazz.

Louis Armstrong always said his birth date was July 4, 1900, but after his death it was revealed that his actual date of birth was August 4, 1901. Raised in New Orleans, his grandparents were slaves, his father worked in a turpentine plant, and his mother was a servant. After firing a pistol on New Year’s Day when he was only 13, he was sent to the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys. He eventually became the leader of the school band, after teaching himself to play the bugle, then the cornet. In 1924, he switched to the trumpet.

High Society, starring Louis ArmstrongSatchmo (derived from an early nickname, “Satchel Mouth”) is given credit for many jazz innovations, including scat singing, and he helped to change jazz from an ensemble form to a solo art. It is difficult for many younger people to understand the impact he had on the art form, since many see him as a kind of square, happy-go-lucky performer of old-timey music (and he was even seen as an “Uncle Tom” by some more militant artists during the 60s). But he was the transitional figure between Dixieland and modern jazz. And far from being an Uncle Tom, he spent his life fighting against discrimination and injustice, being the first person to lead a band with both whites and blacks, and speaking out against the Vietnam War.

Louis Armstrong appeared in more than 40 films and TV-movies, including High Society and Hello, Dolly, for which the title song became one of his signature pieces. He was one of the most beloved performers in music history, the Ambassador of Jazz to many in Europe. He never quit working, and died on July 6, 1971 in New York.

Although he left New Orleans — his boyhood home and the birthplace of jazz — in protest over their refusal to allow his integrated band to perform, the New Orleans City Council is renaming the New Orleans International Airport to the “Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.” An official renaming ceremony will be held on on August 2, 2001, in conjunction with the “Satchmo SummerFest” on August 2-5, 2001, in celebration of the Centennial. His story was a prominent part of Ken Burns’ excellent documentary, Jazz.

I’ve chosen to celebrate Louis Armstrong’s life, even though he is not technically an actor, because of his importance to musical history. There’s a lot here, so please enjoy, and give Satchmo some good thoughts on August 4… or at any other time, for that matter. He earned it.

Louis Armstrong Tributes/Pages

  • Liberty Hall Jazz Quartet – A site with several interesting pages, including stamps and information about Swiss Kriss, Satchmo’s sponsor.
  • Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy – From The Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.
  • Louisiana Music Archive & Artist Directory – Includes separate sections on Louis Armstrong and the Armstrong Centennial celebration.
  • Satchmo.Net – Web site for the Louis Armstrong House and Archives (in Queens, NY) includes a description of the Archives, which consist of a collection of photographs, papers, scrapbooks, commercial recordings, private recordings, memorabilia, and musical instruments discovered in the Armstrong House in 1987 and now housed at Queens College. Some of it is featured online.
  • Vanessa Fraser’s Louis Armstrong Page – Created as part of an independent study program, Vanessa’s site includes an “art gallery,” biography, collection of Armstrong postage stamps, quotes, and reading list.

Other Louis Armstrong Pages

Where To Find Or See Louis Armstrong Films

Books by or about Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Movie Posters On The Web

 

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