“I got a simple rule about everybody. If you don’t treat me right / shame on you!”
Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was born this day in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1901. Today would be his 111th birthday.
The grandson of slaves, his family was very poor. His father, William Armstrong, abandoned the family when Louis was a baby. His mother, Mayann often turned to prostitution to make ends meet and she left Louis and his little sister Beatrice with their grandmother Josephine Armstrong. The little boy did what he could to earn money. He worked as a paper boy. He hauled coal to the red-light district — and lingered around the clubs to listen to the music. In 1907 he sang in a street quartet for change. He did odd jobs for the Karnofsky family, a Lithuanian-Jewish family who took him in and treated him well. The Karnofskys lent Armstrong the money buy his first cornet.
When he was 11 years old he was sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, a reform school, for firing his a pistol into the air on New Year’s Eve. While at the home Armstrong really learned to play the cornet (he had been self taught and could play by ear prior to the lessons he had at the home).
He was released from the home at 14. He worked hauling coal and unloading barges during the day and brought out his horn at night. He went to honky tonk clubs like “the Funky Butt Hall” to listen to established musicians and learn from them. Joe “King” Oliver mentored the young man. By 17 he was playing professionally.
By the 1920’s he was playing on riverboats and traveled up to St. Louis. His jazz trumpet solos and vocals became his signature style. In 1922 “King” Oliver invited him to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago. The money was good enough that Armstrong no longer had to work the menial labor day jobs to make ends meet. By 1925 he was headlining his own band and playing with artist like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. He was billed as “The World’s Greatest Jazz Cornetist” for a gig at the Dreamland Cafe, and cut his debut record with his own group Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five. By the 1930s his act had gone international.According to the Louis Armstrong House Museum Site he:
- developed a way of playing jazz, as an instrumentalist and a vocalist, which has had an impact on all musicians to follow;
- recorded hit songs for five decades, and his music is still heard today on television and radio and in films;
- wrote two autobiographies, more than ten magazine articles, hundreds of pages of memoirs, and thousands of letters;
- appeared in more than thirty films (over twenty were full-length features) as a gifted actor with superb comic timing and an unabashed joy of life;
- composed dozens of songs that have become jazz standards;
- performed an average of 300 concerts each year, with his frequent tours to all parts of the world earning him the nickname “Ambassador Satch,” and became one of the first great celebrities of the twentieth century.
Here’s Louis Armstrong (Trumpet), Trummy Young (Trombone), Peanuts Hucko (Clarinet), Billy Kyle (Piano), Mort Herbert (Bass), and Danny Barcelona (Drums) in Stutttgart Germany in 1959.
[note to self: MUST sing more jazz so I can play in a band with some one named Trummy and Peanuts.]