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Louis Armstrong | Official biography

Louis Armstrong
The trumpeter, singer and entertainer Louis Armstrong, known as ‘Satchmo’ or Pops ’, was and remains the most famous jazz musician of all. He was born on August 4, 1901, at 719 block on Jane Alley, New Orleans. His mother Mary Albert came from the Louisian Boutte and was not yet of legal age when their son was born. She felt no more responsible for the boy than the father William Armstrong and soon after the birth of the strictly Catholic grandmother Josephine left him. Little Louis grew up in one of the poorest areas of New Orleans, nicknamed The Battlefield, not far from the legendary red-light district of Storyville. He was left to fend for himself from the age of seven and earned his living by doing all sorts of odd jobs. At the beginning of 1914 he was admitted to the “Colored Waif’s Home For Boys” reform home after he shot a revolver in the air at a New Year’s Eve party out of youthful exuberance. There he came into contact with the cornet for the first time through Captain Peter Davis.

After his release, Armstrong got through all sorts of auxiliary work and hung around in the relevant pubs in his hometown until the cornetist King Oliver noticed him. The two musicians became friends, Armstrong received practical instrumental lessons and did his job so well that in 1917 he was able to take his sponsor's place in the band of trombonist Kid Ory. It was one of the crucial phases in the life of the young musician, because from then on things went slowly. Armstrong played with show bands on Mississippi steamers, followed in 1922 with the "Creole Jazz Band" King Oliver to Chicago and was even allowed to take part in first recordings such as "Chimes Blues (1923). His second wife - he was married four times - the Pianist Lilian “Lil” Hardin finally gave him the idea to try his own combo.

At the end of 1925 the original line-up of the “Hot Five” was brought into being with Hardin, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds on clarinet and the banjo player Johnny St.Cyr. The record company Okeh, which specializes in black Race Records, offered the newcomers, who soon increased to seven musicians, a forum and published five dozen recordings between February 1926 and December 1928. The sound of the “Hot Five” / “Hot Seven” sessions was unusual and promising, as it linked the freer ideas of the Chicago School with traditional styles from New Orleans. From today's perspective, they are considered to be the actual beginning of jazz on record and also formed the starting point for Armstrong's career.

The international breakthrough, however, was a few years away. The Great Depression, Depression and Prohibition brought the music business into distress. Clubs and stages were closed and the employment situation deteriorated noticeably. Armstrong moved to New York in 1929 and was hired by the black revue Hot Chocolates at “Connie's Inn” in Harlem and on Broadway. In the same year he had a shellac hit with “Ain’t Misbehavin”. This created the basis for his own orchestra, with which he toured America regularly from then on. Beyond music, he discovered the medium of film for himself and appeared in numerous films as a guest or actor (“Pennies From Heaven”, 1936; “Goin 'Places”, 1939; “Pillow The Bost”, 1945; “Glenn Miller Story ”, 1954;“ High Society ”, 1956;“ Paris Blues ”, 1960).

After the end of the Second World War and the support of the swing orchestras forced by the troop support, the jazz world began to change fundamentally. New currents from Harlem and 52nd Street popularized the bebop, yet Armstrong stayed in business as the traditional-style Old Lion. He made it to the US charts and the cover of Time magazine in 1949 with “Blueberry Hill”. Even the critical readers of the respected scene magazine Down Beat stayed with him and voted him in 1952 the “most important musical personality of all time”. Satchmo became on the one hand the figurehead of the New Orleans revival and on the other hand managed to maintain his artistic integrity through albums such as Ella Fitzgerald (“Ella & Louis”, 1956) or Oscar Peterson (“LA meets OP”, 1957). He was a guest at the Newport Festival in 1957 and 1958, appeared in the charts with hits such as “Hello Dolly” (1964) and “What A Wonderful World” (1968) and was still close to being in 1959, 1968 and spring 1971 despite several heart failures continuously active. Louis Armstrong died in his sleep on July 6, 1971 in New York. With him, one of the most important integrators and mentors of jazz left the stage, whose person and work still fascinate people all over the world.

07/2005