Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong: Biography
Louis Armstrong, regarded as the most influential jazz musician in history, was born on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans. Fondly known as "Satchmo" (short for "Satchelmouth," a reference to the size of his mouth) or "Pops," he had an infectious disposition, wide grin, and recognizable, gravelly voice that contributed to his popularity. Armstrong helped spread the jazz genre around the world.
Armstrong grew up in a rough section of New Orleans. As a child, he helped support his family by singing on street corners, working on a junk wagon, cleaning graves for tips, and selling coal. During this time, he was exposed to all kinds of music in the city, from blues to brass bands. A born musician, he received his first formal music instruction in the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys.
Under the influence of renowned cornet player Joe "King" Oliver, Armstrong's repertoire of songs grew during his teenage years. In 1922 Armstrong joined Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in Chicago, playing for mixed-race audiences at the famed Lincoln Gardens ballroom. They made their first recordings together in 1923 for the Okeh, Columbia, and Gennett labels. In 1925, Okeh signed Armstrong to an exclusive contract and began recording Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven (1927) groups. During this era, music moved away from collective group playing and began to emphasize individual solo improvisation.
By 1929, Louis Armstrong was a pop star, recording standards and Tin Pan Alley hits with his orchestra or other big bands. Armstrong popularized numbers like "Tiger Rag," "Shine," "The Peanut Vendor," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," and "Stardust." In 1935, Armstrong's lifelong manager Joe Glaser negotiated a contract with Decca Records, which launched collaborations with the Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Tommy Dorsey and Ella Fitzgerald. In 1936 Armstrong made his Hollywood debut with "Pennies from Heaven" with Bing Crosby. He made more than 50 films in his career.
After World War II, Armstrong and other artists launched a series of all-star performances and recordings on the Columbia label. His ability to generate top 40 hits in every generation was one of the wonders of his career: "Blueberry Hill" (with Gordon Jenkins) in 1949; "Mack the Knife" (from Brecht-Weill's Threepenny Opera) in 1956; and the original "Hello, Dolly!" in 1964. In 1988, 17 years after his death, Armstrong's "A Wonderful World" was stronger than ever as a top 40 single, popularized by soundtrack of Good Morning, Vietnam.
Until his death in 1971, Louis Armstrong continued performing. He also helped bring down social barriers with humor and grace. He participated in countless U.S. state department tours of Africa and Europe. He was an outspoken civil rights advocate. His influence on every trumpeter that followed him, and on jazz, blues and pop musicians today remains unequaled.
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