Born in 1901 in New Orleans, the place of birth of jazz, Louis Armstrong was an inventive cornet player, trumpeter and a high-skilled scat singer as well. He came from an impoverished family in Louisiana, the place where he had his first band experiences. In 1922, like many other musicians, he moved to Chicago at the time when the town was the center of jazz universe. From that moment, he never stopped playing. Louis was a hard-worker. He gave an average of 300 performances a year and played in more than 30 films. Armstrong’s nickname was Satchmo (short from Satchelmouth) referring to the way he was blowing in his trumpet. At one moment his mouth was so injured by his own technique that he had to change his way of playing.
Armstrong’s major achievement is that he really helped jazz music to become popular. What was in the beginning a community music played by and for black men, soon became very popular in the whole United States. However, his influence extends well beyond jazz. He was the first to improvise and elaborate on a given melody. His technique has since been copied many times but no one ever reached his virtuosity. He introduced a notion of freedom to music that still has an impact on popular music nowadays.
Even though his involvement in music was very important, he had to face numerous controversies. He was for instance wrongly criticized by civil rights activists in a time of racial segregation because he played as well for whites as for blacks. However, what his critics didn’t know was that he was one of the main financial supports to Martin Luther King. It wasn’t his only way to fight against racism and segregation. However, he always thought music was not to be mixed with political opinions, which explains that he wouldn’t praise his own good actions.
He was indeed a very secret and humble man.
This devotion to the cause of black people and his openness to a white public as well made him a striking symbol of unity in a divided land. His very theatrical character (he was well known for his expressive face and gestures) also played a part in his huge success among the whole population of the United States.
After a long and prosperous career, Louis Armstrong died from a heart attack on July 1971, a month before his 70th birthday. He now lies in Flushing Cemetery in New York City, which still attracts many of his nostalgic fans.