The Life of Louis Armstrong

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To celebrate Black History Month, we are highlighting the life and career of four significant African American contributors to the American Songbook. Last week, we shined the spotlight on Ella Fitzgerald - this week, we turn our focus to Louis Armstrong. Tune in this Friday at 3 to 4PM ET for an hour of music, focusing on Louis Armstrong. 

Born August 4, 1901 in New Orleans Louisiana, Louis Armstrong grew up to become one of the most beloved figures in American jazz. 

At the age of 14, Louis Armstrong picked up the trumpet and began taking lessons from Joe Oliver, one of the finest trumpet players that New Orleans had to offer. It wasn't long before Louis was playing regularly in New Orleans. At 18, Louis Armstrong was performing on riverboats, travelling up and down the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis with Fate Marable's riverboat band.

The song "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" depicts life along the bank of the Mississippi and this tune became Louis Armstrong's theme song. 


In 1929, at the age of 28, Louis Armstrong moved to New York City. From this point on, "Pops" was in constant motion. He began releasing records and touring the world. By the early 1930's, Louis had begun appearing in films. In 1936, Louis Armstrong became the first African American to receive featured billing in a major Hollywood movie with his role in Pennies from Heaven w/Bing Crosby.

Here is a 1947 recording of Pennies From Heaven performed by Louis Armstrong and The All Stars.

Throughout the 1930s and 40s Louis Armstrong dominated the jazz music scene. In 1936, he became the first African American jazz musician to write an autobiography (Swing That Music). In 1937, he became the first African American to host a national radio show. Louis Armstrong continued to play for audiences around the world and release records to critical acclaim.


In 1954 Armstrong wrote a second autobiography; in '55 he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show; and in '56 he was cast in High Society with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly.


By the close of the 1950s, Louis Armstrong had become an iconic American figure. Armstrong continued to release records and travel the world until his death in 1971.

On July 6, 1971 Louis Armstrong passed away at his home in Queens, NY. Two days later, more than 30,000 came to pay their respects to the beloved jazz legend. Louis Armstrong was buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, just a few miles away from his home in Corona.