short for Satchelmouth referring to the size of his mouth. He had a great sense of humor and a
positive disposition that made people around him feel good. He won the hearts of everyone and
his impact on jazz music of the 20th century continues into the 21st century.
Louis Daniel Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Louisiana in one of
the poorest parts of town. Louis had maintained that he was born on July 4, 1900. There had
been controversy over the correct date of his birth when a baptism certificate was found in 1983,
belonging to Armstrong, verifying that August 4, 1901 was the correct date of birth. It is likely
that Armstrong himself was unaware of the mistake, as it was not uncommon for many poor
blacks whose birth dates are not known to adopt a popular day to celebrate their birthdays.
Armstrong’s mother, Mary Ann Miles, also known as Mayan, gave birth to Louis at the age of
fifteen after a short romance with Louis’ father, Willie Armstrong. Willie abandoned Louis when
he was only three weeks old. Mayan did what she had to do to provide for Louis and his sister,
Mama Lucy, which forced her into prostitution to make ends meet. Mayan often left Louis in the
care of his grandmother, who taught him how to properly care for himself and took him to
church. He enjoyed going to church and is that is where he first began to sing.
By the age of seven, Louis was working when he was not in school. He would sell coal, sing
on the street corner, or work on a junk wagon. Being from New Orleans, a city that lived and
breathed music, Armstrong was influenced by the new and evolving music of jazz. The music of
the honky tonks in Storyville and brass bands in parades and funerals were great inspirations.
On New Year’s Eve 1912, Louis just eleven years old, fired shots in the air with a borrowed
pistol. Although it was illegal, this was not uncommon, it was a tradition of the celebrating.
Louis was caught and sentenced to an indefinite time in the Colored Waifs Home for Boys.
While serving his time at the Boys home, Armstrong met Peter Davis, the conductor and trainer
of the Waifs 15 piece brass band. Louis was invited to join the band. Davis encouraged Louis
and gave him musical instructions on the playing the cornet. Louis fell in love with music.
Armstrong was released in 1914, and went back to selling coal and singing and dancing in the
streets for coins.
At the age of seventeen, Louis began playing small brass at funerals and parades. Before long
he had made a name for himself and caught the attention of Joe "King" Oliver, a member of Kid
Ory’s band and finest trumpet player around. Oliver began to mentor Armstrong and eventually
allowed Armstrong to play with the band on his odd nights. When Oliver moved to Chicago,
Louis took his place in Kid Ory’s band.
In early 1922, Armstrong was invited to Chicago by Oliver, to play second cornet in his band,
Creole Jazz Band. After a while they began touring and recording. By 1924, Louis had left the
Creole Jazz Band and moved to New York to play in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. New York
jazz was very different than the Chicago jazz scene but Armstrong was still able to astonish the
crowd with his new style. Shortly after joining the orchestra, Louis felt he had become well
enough known to make it on his own. He moved back to Chicago and started recording as band
leader with his Hot Five and later Hot Seven band. Over the next three years, Armstrong and a
handful of musicians built the most important monument of recorded jazz. He recorded Ain’t
Misbehavin’, in 1929, which helped the acceptance and popularity of jazz.
Louis’ voice gained controversy and some people disapproved of his unique gravelly voice.
Armstrong then recorded Heebie Jeebies, which introduced the world to scat singing and West
End Blues, one of the most famous recordings in early jazz. Louis’ playing continued to improve
and his music was introduced to more and more audiences. He toured England for three months
in 1932, and continued his international tours over the next few years.
When he returned to the US, he met Joe Glaser, a small time gangster and member of the
Capone syndicate. Glaser became Armstrong’s manager. Louis began performing in films, the
best theaters, dance halls, nightclubs, and on the radio. In 1947, Glaser had Armstrong disband
his big band and formed a small ensemble called the All-Stars. The All-Stars were the best
platform for Louis to display his talent. They were a superb band. The All-Stars recorded many
famous albums and sold millions of records all over the world.
Louis career reached the top in 1956, when he became more famous than anyone in the
music business had before him. In Ghana, over 500,000 people came to hear him play. Louis and
the All-Stars often performed for audiences of more than 10,000 people at a time. During the rest
of the decade, Louis continued to his world tours and television and radio performances. In 1967,
Louis and the All-Stars recorded What a Wonderful World, it held the number one spot on the
charts for weeks in Britain.
On the morning of July 6, 1971, in Queens, New York, Louis suffered a massive heart attack
at his home and died in his sleep. The world mourned the loss of the greatest musician and
entertainer. More than 25,000 people lined the streets to show respect during the funeral. Louis
Armstrong’s records continue to sell today as much as they did over 30 years ago. Louis
Armstrong will always remain the greatest trumpet player and jazz musician the world will ever