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Louis Armstrong was an American jazz trumpeter and singer who was one of the most influential figures in jazz music. This biography of Louis Armstrong provides detailed information about his childhood, life, achievements, works & timeline.

Quick Facts

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Famous as
Musician
Nationality
religion
Baptist
Born on
04 August 1901 AD
Birthday
Died At Age
69
Sun Sign
Leo    Leo Men
Born in
New Orleans
Died on
06 July 1971 AD
place of death
Corona
father
William Armstrong
mother
May-Ann
siblings
Beatrice
Spouses
Daisy Parker, Lil Hardin, Alpha Smith, Lucille Wilson
discoveries / inventions
Swiss Kriss
awards:
1972 - Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
1964 - Grammy Award for Male Vocal Performance
Louis Armstrong
By Herbert Behrens / Anefo (Nationaal Archief) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Louis Armstrong was an American jazz trumpeter and singer who was one of the most influential figures in jazz music. Famous for his innovative methods of playing the trumpet and cornet, he was also a highly talented singer blessed with a powerful gravelly voice. Known for his improvisation skills, Armstrong could bend and twist the lyrics and melody of a song with dramatic effects. Coming to prominence in the mid 20th century America when racism was much prevalent, he was one of the first African-American entertainers to be highly popular among both the white and the colored segments of the society. Fondly nicknamed Satchmo or Pops by his fans, he is often regarded to be the founding father of jazz as a uniquely American art form. Born into poverty in New Orleans, he had a very difficult childhood after his father abandoned the family. As a young boy, he sought solace in music and started playing musical instruments as a teenager to earn his living. He soon discovered that he was naturally gifted in music and over a period of years established himself as a much respected player of jazz music. He entertained millions over the course of his long and illustrious career and went on to become one of the first great celebrities of the 20th century.

Childhood & Early Life
  • Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S., to William Armstrong, a factory worker, and Mary Albert. His family was very poor. His father abandoned the family when Louis was young, and his mother often had to resort to prostitution to provide for the family.
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  • He had to drop out of school in order to work and augment his mother’s meager income. He started singing in the streets for money and also began working for a Jewish family, the Karnofskys, who treated young Louis as a family member and encouraged his musical talents.
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  • He fired his step-father’s gun in the air during a New Year’s Eve celebration in 1912 and was arrested and sent to the Colored Waif's Home for Boys. There he received musical instruction and realized that he had a natural talent for playing the cornet. By the time he was released from the home in 1914, he had realized that his life’s calling was to make music.
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Career
  • Out of the home, he started taking music more seriously and began playing with a number of bands. He also learned about music from older musicians such as Buddy Petit, Kid Ory, and Joe "King" Oliver. By the late 1910s he had become a popular jazz music player in New Orleans.
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  • In 1922, he moved to Chicago and joined his mentor Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Chicago was a thriving city at that time, and offered much scope for entertainers, especially musicians. Soon Armstrong became very famous and successful, and garnered a huge fan following.
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  • Looking for better career prospects, he left Oliver in 1924 and joined Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, the top African-American dance band in New York City at the time. Again he proved to be much successful and soon transformed Henderson’s band into what is today regarded as the first jazz big band.
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  • The Great Depression set in during the late 1920s, and Armstrong’s hitherto thriving career suffered a setback. The depression caused several of the prominent clubs where he played to shut down. Many of his fellow musicians shifted to other professions to make a living.
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  • He moved to Los Angeles in 1930 and played at the New Cotton Club. The club was often visited by the Hollywood crowd, and celebrities like Bing Crosby were regulars there. However, Armstrong did not stay there for long and returned to Chicago in late 1931.
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  • He travelled a lot during the 1930s and visited countries like Britain, Denmark, France, Scandinavia, and Holland where he gave concerts. His popularity as a performer reached new heights during the late 1930s.
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  • He also ventured into films and played a band leader in the motion picture ‘Pennies from Heaven’ with Bing Crosby in 1936, becoming the first African-American to get featured billing in a major Hollywood movie. He also appeared in several other movies with big Hollywood stars in the ensuing years.
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  • He continued performing and recording throughout the 1940s and 1950s, releasing a string of super hits like ‘Blueberry Hill’, ‘That Lucky Old Sun’, ‘La Vie En Rose’, and ‘I Get Ideas’. During the mid-1950s his international popularity skyrocketed and he embarked on world tours to several countries, performing in front of sold-out crowds in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
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Major Works
  • His 1954 studio release ‘Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy’ is considered to be one of his masterpieces. Featuring timeless hits like ‘St. Louis Blues’, ‘Yellow Dog Blues’, ‘Loveless Love’, and ‘Aunt Hagar's Blues’, the album is described by Allmusic as "essential music for all serious jazz collections".
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  • Armstrong’s 1967 single ‘What a Wonderful World’ was an iconic song that peaked at No.1 in Austria and U.K. and reached the top ten in several other countries like Denmark, Belgium, Ireland, and Norway.
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Awards & Achievements
  • Louis Armstrong was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972 by the Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.
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Personal Life & Legacy
  • He was married four times. His first marriage was to a former prostitute named Daisy Parker in 1918. The marriage was tumultuous from the very beginning and soon ended in a divorce. He had adopted a young boy called Clarence over the course of this marriage.
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  • He married Lil Hardin in 1924. His second wife played a major role in shaping Armstrong’s career, but the two drifted apart in the late 1920s and divorced years later.
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  • His third marriage was to Alpha Smith which lasted four years before ending.
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  • His fourth and final marriage was to a singer, Lucille Wilson, to whom he was married until his death in 1971.
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  • A prolific musician, he led a very hectic life often performing up to 300 concerts a year. His lifestyle began taking its toll on his health during the late 1960s and he began suffering from kidney and heart problems. His health declined steadily in 1970 and he died in his sleep on July 6, 1971, at his home in Queens, New York.
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  • Even though he never had children from any of his marriages, a new controversy emerged in 2012 when a woman named Sharon Preston claimed that she was his biological daughter from a 1950s affair he had with a dancer named Lucille Preston. Personal letters Armstrong had written in the 1950s confirm the fact that he believed Sharon to be his daughter and paid for her upbringing.
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Books by Louis Armstrong

    Satchmo (Da Capo Paperback)

    by Louis Armstrong

    Louis Armstrong, In His Own Words: Selected Writings

    by Louis Armstrong

    Satchmo - My Life in New Orleans

    by Louis Armstrong

Books About Louis Armstrong

    What a Wonderful World: The Magic of Louis Armstrong's Later Years

    by Ricky Riccardi

    When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat

    by Muriel Harris Weinstein

    Little Satchmo: Living In the Shadow Of My Father, Louis Daniel Armstrong

    by Sharon Louise Preston-Folta

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