American singer, bandleader and trumpeter player Louis Armstrong was born on this day in 1901.
With his instantly recognizable deep and distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong had many hits including the 1964 US No.1 “Hello Dolly!”, the 1968 UK No.1 “What A Wonderful World” as well as “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “Ain’t Misbehavin”, and the gorgeous “We Have All the Time in the World.” But as well as these timeless classics, Armstrong was undoubtedly one of the greatest Jazz musicians and one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. He set a new standard that surpassed everything that came before and providing a vital reference point for the music that came after.
Armstrong was born into a very poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana, the grandson of slaves. He spent his youth in poverty, in a rough neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans. He left school aged eleven, and would hang out in the red light district, and listen to the bands playing in the brothels and dance halls. He later joined a quartet of boys that sang in the streets for money.
Armstrong developed his cornet playing in a band of the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where he had been sent multiple times for general delinquency. Often in trouble, he was sent to the home after being caught firing his stepfather’s pistol into the air at a New Year’s Eve celebration party.
He was one of America’s most significant artists by the late 1930s, and had created a sensation in Europe with live performances and records. His music had had a major effect on “swing” and the big band sound.
After spending years on the road and often playing over 300 gigs a year, Armstrong settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 where he formed Louis Armstrong and his All Stars. During this period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over thirty films. He was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time Magazine in the February 1949 edition.
In 1964, he recorded his biggest-selling record, “Hello, Dolly!” The song went to #1 on the pop chart, making Armstrong (age 63) the oldest person to ever accomplish that feat. In the process, Armstrong dislodged The Beatles from the #1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with three different songs.
Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday.
During his lifetime, Louis achieved so much – he recorded records with the Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Tommy Dorsey, and Ella Fitzgerald. He became the first black to host a sponsored, national radio broadcast, he would speak out against racial discrimination and publicly condemned the violence that would sometimes surround it.
In August 2000 New Orleans International Airport was re-named Louis Armstrong Airport in honour of the New Orleans born trumpet player, singer and bandleader.
“What a Wonderful World” was one of the last recordings he made and he made it a better place for all of us.
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