From 1994 to 2007, I was a proud, well-trained, 100% bonified band nerd. I was in pep band, marching band, orchestra, concert band, and – my original love – jazz band. My instrument of choice was the trumpet and my goal in life was to play “Hail to the Chief” for the President of the United States.
The reasons behind this have been explained on my blog before (it involves Abraham Lincoln and Bug Hall and nothing related to today’s post), but in an effort to improve my skills and become worthy of playing for the Prez, I had to study the greats…
And as any self-respecting jazz trumpeter will tell you, there’s really no one better than Louis Armstrong.
I grew up listening to Satchmo, even before I decided to dedicate my life to playing the trumpet. I loved his unique voice, his stylistic playing, and his overall joy for life. He is one half of one of my all-time favorite records, Ella & Louis Together, and stars in one of my all-time favorite movies, High Society (which also stars my one and only Frank Sinatra!).
Born August 4, 1901, Armstrong had a rough life, growing up in the deep south at a time that made life challenging for anyone of color. As luck would have it, a simple twist of fate set Armstrong’s life in motion, and he would go on to record some of the most influential jazz albums of all time.
He is often called “The Father of Jazz” and is even credited with inventing the popular ‘scat’ technique. He’s created jazz foundations, served as a jazz ambassador for the US, and developed a sound so unique that anyone could pretty much identify a song by ol’ Pops pretty much instantly.
Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday. Even after his passing, Armstrong continues to influence the music community, receiving several honors, including induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, posthumously.
In celebration of the impact Armstrong has had on the music industry and on the lives of musicians all over the world, including mine, here are 28 fun facts about Louis Armstrong!
28 Fun Facts about Louis Armstrong
Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father abandoned his family after Armstrong’s birth and his mother was a prostitute who frequently left Armstrong to his maternal grandmother.
While growing up, Armstrong did assorted jobs for the Karnofskys, a family of Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants. They gave him monetary compensation, a hot meal every night, and regular invitations to Shabbat dinners. They even gave him a $5 advance so he could buy his first horn. In honor of that family, Armstrong wore the Star of David around his neck throughout adulthood.
After being arrested at the age of 11 for firing a gun into the air, Armstrong was sent to the Waifis’ Home for Boys, where he received his first cornet lesson.
For nearly 10 years, Armstrong did not play in his hometown of New Orleans because it did not allow integrated bands. He returned in 1965 after the Civil Rights Act passed and “…triumphantly played with an integrated band in the city’s Jazz Museum.”
The Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, established and funded by Armstrong in 1969, was devoted to providing education in the history of music and jazz.
Armstrong was famously very quiet about race issues in the United States and refused to speak on the topic until he heard the news about the Arkansas National Guard refusing to let black students from entering Little Rock High School. He told the media, “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell!”
Armstrong pronounced his name ‘Louis’, but adopted and answered to the nickname, ‘Louie’.
Armstrong’s wide smile earned him the name “Satchelmouth” when he was a kid. This later became “Satchmo”, when a reporter mistook the name when he met Armstrong. Armstrong liked the revised nickname so much that he used it for an autobiography and had it engraved on some of his instruments.
Armstrong was married 4 times throughout his life. Though he loved kids, he never produced children with any of his wives.
Armstrong was one of the first celebrities to be arrested for drug possession. He made no secret of his fondness for marijuana, which he described as “…a thousand times better than whiskey.” He served 9 days in jail after being busted with the drug outside the Cotton Club in California.
But that didn’t stop him from smoking a joint now and then. Armstrong said that smoking weed “…makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro.” He continued using the drug for the rest of his life.
Before Armstrong married his fourth wife, Lucille, he made sure she could make his favorite food: rice and beans.
He actually loved rice and beans so much that he signed his letters, “Red Beans and Ricely Yours”.
He loved performing so much that there were some years he appeared in more than 300 concerts.
One of Armstrong’s most well-known songs, “What a Wonderful World” didn’t even make a blimp in America until nearly 20 years after Armstrong died (thanks to its inclusion in the Good Morning, Vietnam soundtrack).
Armstrong is also said to have invented ‘scat’, the art of making musical instrument noises with the human voice.
Armstrong’s personality won him fans of all races and religions, something rare for his time.
When he met the Pope Pius XII in 1949, the Pope asked him if he had children. Armstrong replied, “No, daddy, but we’re workin’ on it!”
Armstrong is quoted with saying, “Without jazz, there wouldn’t be any rock n’ roll.” For his early influence on the rock n’ roll genre, Armstrong was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Armstrong was deemed ‘America’s Jazz Ambassador’, traveling to Africa, the Middle East, and Europe on Goodwill missions arranged by the US State Department.
Armstrong did not show his face at many race rallies or marches; however, he did donate money to the civil rights movement after the attack in Selma, Alabama.
During Armstrong’s lifetime, only one of his recordings ever reached the No. 1 Billboard spot in the US: his 1964 cover of “Hello, Dolly”, which pushed the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” from the top spot on the Hot 100 List.
Armstrong also won the Male Vocal Performance Grammy Award for “Hello, Dolly”.
One year after Armstrong passed away, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
Armstrong recorded more than 60 records, several of which have been named some of the most influential jazz records in history. He recorded them all in a span of 3 years.
The home Armstrong and his wife, Lucille, lived in for nearly 30 years is now a museum about the entertainer, called simply the Louis Armstrong House. It’s located in Queens, NY.
When Armstrong died of a heart attack at the age of 69, an estimated 25,000 people attended his funeral.
Among the honorary pallbearers were Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie.
Sometimes you just need a little fun in your life! Check back every week for a new “Just Bee-cause” post, where I discuss everything from celebrity news to favorite videos and websites!