Now is the time to bust out a trumpet and put on a recording of “What a Wonderful World” because August 4 is the birthday of one of the most influential musicians of the 20th Century—Louis Armstrong.
Born and raised in 1901 in New Orleans, Armstrong’s groundbreaking musical career spanned from the ’20s all the way to the ’60s. It’s difficult to define one singular thing Armstrong was known for; his unique vocals, his “inventive” trumpet and cornet performance, his skills in scat singing, and his magnetic personality captivated audiences for decades and continue to inspire musicians to this day.
His immense success would not have been possible without his rocky beginnings. Because his father left the family early in his childhood, he left school in the fifth grade in order to work instead. However, at 11 years old, he was arrested for firing a pistol in the air in celebration, at which point he was taken from his mother and sent to a home for orphans. It was here that he first learned to play the trumpet. Although he still spent several years working hard to get by, he was determined to make music his life.
By 1918, Armstrong had landed a spot in the renowned Kid Ory’s band in New Orleans. In the ensuing years, his career took off. He improved his skills and developed his personal musical style quickly, and in 1922, he moved to Chicago to play second cornet in King Oliver’s Creole Band. But it was when he moved to New York in 1924 that he really began to make waves. Although he only spent a year in New York’s Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, he introduced new styles that influence jazz to this day.
Wherever he went, his style and his intuition for music followed. Not only did he have talent and stage presence, but he would frequently adapt the pieces he played, adding his own interpretation through his playing. It was in his years performing in a big band, starting at the end of the ’20s, that he earned the popular nickname “Satchmo.” His ability as a bold musician and a showman allowed him to create his own sextet in 1947, the Louis Armstrong All-Stars. From there, he would go on to be known all over the world.
Louis Armstrong passed away on July 6, 1971, and was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald were just a couple of the early artists inspired by his music. However, his style and his spirit are imbued in jazz music today.
To celebrate his birthday, you can listen to some of his greatest hits or check out a biography. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even check out some jazz and blues locations in Kansas City. Whether you’re a musician or not, there is no doubt you can learn from Louis Armstrong about forging your own path and finding your own unique voice.
Blue Springs North Branch