Anniversary of the Birth of Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong

Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn more about the legendary jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong. Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.

Jazz. It’s a uniquely American style of music – and one of the kings of jazz was trumpeter, composer, and singer Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.

Photo: Louis Armstrong, 1953
Photo: Louis Armstrong, 1953. Credit: U.S. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division; Wikimedia Commons.

Born in New Orleans on 4 August 1901, Armstrong’s early troubled life included the absence of his parents, poverty, and a stint in a home for boys after he fired a gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. But like some mistakes, that one changed his life for the better. It was while he was in that boy’s home that he learned how to play the trumpet. Eventually, his jazz career would lead to roles in movies and accolades like “best hot trumpet” and “the country’s top jazz singer.”

An article about jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel newspaper article 24 March 1944
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), 24 March 1944, page 47

The 1920s

Armstrong’s career in jazz was a long and successful one. He began his five-decade career in the jazz scene of 1920s Chicago. It was there that he played with the famous King Oliver Creole Jazz Band, followed by a succession of jazz bands. Newspaper articles of the time raved about Armstrong, as in this example from Walter Winchell’s “On Broadway” column with the heading “Things I Could See and Hear Again.” Winchell ends the column remarking that one of the things he would like to see and hear again was Louis Armstrong’s “horn-tooting and warbling of ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ from the pit during the ‘Hot Chocolates’ intermission.” Winchell was referring to the popular Hot Chocolates All Black Music Review.

An article about jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Richmond Times Dispatch newspaper article 4 December 1929
Richmond Times Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia), 4 December 1929, page 15

You can listen to Louis Armstrong play and sing “Ain’t Misbehavin’” on YouTube here:

Jazz Hits

Two of Louis Armstrong’s most memorable songs are the 1964 recording of “Hello, Dolly!” and the 1967 single “What a Wonderful World.” But those are just two of the dozens of Armstrong’s hits that continue to be played today. He was a prolific artist who released over 29 albums; additional albums have been released after his death.

This Texas newspaper article provides a posthumous look at his career and hits.

An article about jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 7 July 1971
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 July 1971, section D, page 3

The Last Note

Louis Armstrong never stopped working. After playing a two-week engagement at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in July 1971, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong died of a heart attack.

An obituary for jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 7 July 1971
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 7 July 1971, page 1

Numerous articles reported on his death and eulogies were printed in newspapers long after his funeral. One newspaper article printed just days after his death speaks to the love people had for him and the colorblindness of music:

The diverse turnout proved what Satchmo used to preach: that music has no color line, that it discriminates not between the rich and the poor and that where Armstrong and his music are concerned there is no generation gap.

An article about jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Dallas Morning News newspaper article 9 July 1971
Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), 9 July 1971, page 12

Lilian Armstrong

An interesting side note to the death of Louis Armstrong is the death of Armstrong’s second wife, a jazz musician in her own right, Lilian Hardin Armstrong. (Married to Hardin from 1924-1938, Louis Armstrong was married a total of four times). The couple met while playing in the King Oliver band and their collaboration resulted in Satchmo’s early success.

Photo: Lillian Armstrong
Photo: Lillian Armstrong. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Though divorced in 1938 the pair remained friends. On 27 August 1971, just seven weeks after Louis died, Lil Armstrong was playing in a tribute to her legendary ex-husband when she collapsed and died from a heart attack.

As this Kansas newspaper article reports:

She died as she would have wished – swinging the blues at a piano, leading some of those ‘cats’ who made the Chicago style of the 1920’s the great sound it was – and the jazz world today mourned.

An obituary for jazz musician Lillian Armstrong, Wichita Eagle newspaper article 30 August 1971
Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kansas), 30 August 1971, page 10

Louis Armstrong’s Legacy

Armstrong’s legacy lives on and he continues to be an influence on jazz musicians today. His song “What a Wonderful World” was not popular in the United States when it was released, but grew in popularity after Armstrong’s death and was featured in the movies Good Morning Vietnam and the new movie Finding Dory. A new generation of music fans is being introduced to the great Satchmo even today.

An article about jazz trumpeter Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Arkansas Democrat newspaper article 8 March 1988
Arkansas Democrat (Little Rock, Arkansas), 8 March 1988, page 42

Do you have a favorite Louis Armstrong song? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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