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Musician (1900-1971)

One of the foremost musicians of the 20th century, jazz pioneer.  Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901 and grew up poor, often singing on the street for money.  In 1912 he was arrested for firing off a pistol on New Year's Eve and was reprimanded to a youth home.  It was there Armstrong first learned to play the coronet, a trumpet-like brass instrument and when he was released in 1914, he began playing in local jazz bands. 

He soon caught the attention of jazz godfather King Oliver, who found Armstrong jobs in more prominent groups.  In the early '20s Armstrong joined Oliver's group with whom he made his earliest recordings, then moved to New York to work with Fletcher Henderson's jazz orchestra.  Throughout the 1920's, Armstrong recorded a series of classic singles, both with Henderson's group and with noted blues and jazz singers.  He later formed his own bands, the Hot Five and the Hot Seven, and earned the nickname "SATCHMO" short for "Satchel Mouth" thanks to his huge trumpet-inflated cheeks.

In 1927, Armstrong switched from coronet to trumpet; that same year he popularized nonsense-syllable "scat" singing with the single "Heebies Jeebies."   As the years wore on, Armstrong's popularity only grew, as his swinging style and unique, gravelly voice dominated the radio airwaves, making him the most famous jazz musician.  In the mid-30's he toured Europe, the first of many foreign tours that introduced the entire world to America's most vital new musical style.  Armstrong's trumpet style and vocal phrasing became enormously influential for both jazz musicians and pop singers; in addition, his prominent solos transformed jazz from an ensemble form of music to one based heavily on solos and the interplay of individual musicians. 

Unfortunately by the mid-1940s jazz had begun to shift towards "bop", and Armstrong's style was no longer considered current.  Breaking up his band, Armstrong founded a sextet called the All-Stars, a Dixieland/swing group with a humorous stage-presence.  He continued touring until his death in New York on July 6, 1971.   As popular as ever, SATCHMO has been honored on a postage stamp, and his music remains widely available with nearly every cut he recorded on countless loving reissues.


Revised: July 18, 2013.