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Article: Louis Armstrong: The Personal and Musical Journey of the King of Jazz

Louis Armstrong: The Personal and Musical Journey of the King of Jazz

Louis Armstrong: The Personal and Musical Journey of the King of Jazz

With only a fifth-grade education, an American jazz musician, Louis Armstrong, entered music history as a king of jazz and one of the most influential jazzmen of the 20th century. In this article, we invite our readers to explore key facts about Louis Armstrong’s life and musical career.

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Early Years of Louis Armstrong

The musician’s early years were far from being trouble-free. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 4, 1901, Louis Armstrong was raised in a poor neighborhood called “The Battlefield.”  His father abandoned him and his young mother tried hard to make ends meet. Most of his early years, Louis spent with his grandmother, who cared about him.

Louis Armstrong childhood

His second home was among the local Lithuanian-Jewish family of Karnofskys, for whom he worked and who treated him like his own child. They gave him food and even helped him buy his first musical instrument, which was a cornet. The Star of David that one could see on the musician’s neck later was a sign of his gratitude to the Jewish family, who played a significant role in raising him.  

Louis started to learn music only when he turned 11. It all began with his arrest for firing a pistol in the street during a New Year’s Eve celebration. This incident led to his stay in a detention center known as the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. Later, Louis Armstrong spoke about that place as the one where he fell in love with music. He also believed that arrest helped him find the right path and finally learn something valuable. During the next 18 months of his stay there, he learned how to play bugle and cornet from the local music teacher, Peter Davis. As his inborn talent spoke for itself, Louis’ skill soon made him a star musician in the local brass band.

Louis Armstrong’s Musical Achievements and Collaborations

He was released from the Waif’s Home in 1914 with a clear idea to become a professional musician. First, Armstrong played in brass bands and riverboats, travelling with Fate Marable’s band.  For Louis, this time spent with Fate was like studying at university as he had learned a lot from that man, especially in terms of working with written arrangements.

Louis Armstrong

One of the best local cornetists and a bandleader, Joe “King” Oliver, became Armstrong’s mentor and helped him become one of the most in-demand musician in the town. In 1922, Armstrong joined King Oliver’s band in Chicago. In 1923, they started to record music together. During this time, Armstrong dated Lillian Hardin, who was the pianist of the band and later became his wife.

Generally, Armstrong spent three years playing in jazz ensembles in Chicago. However, Lil Hardin always stressed the fact that he was very talented and should have his own band.  It was Hardin, who pushed Armstrong to leave Oliver for the sake of his own success.

Louis Armstrong with his wife

After spending a year in New York with Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra, known as the top African-American band, Louis came back to Chicago in 1925, and for the first time started to record music under his own name.

Louis Armstrong’s bands

His first jazz recording band was Hot Five. Apart from them, he also organized a studio group called Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven to record for Okeh Records in Chicago, Illinois, in May 1927.

During 1925 and 1928, together with his Hot Five and Hot Seven, he released dozens of records that offered the world Louis’ improvisational solos on trumpet and his vocal improvisation with wordless syllables known as scat singing. His scat singing was a pure musical innovation for that time. Thanks to OKeh recordings, Armstrong became whom we know today as a real jazz star.

During the 1930s, Armstrong’s recordings were everywhere on the radio and in films. In 1932, he performed in Europe for the first time, and returned with much success but a damaged lip. A tough schedule and his fondness for playing high Cs on the trumpet resulted in severe lip issue, from which he suffered during his entire career.

Louis Armstrong with Hot Five / Hot Seven

In 1935, after his comeback to America, Louis Armstrong hired a manager and became a leader of the band as well as successfully collaborated with Decca, and starred in movies.

In the late 40s, when big bands started losing popularity, Armstrong switched to a small group, Louis Armstrong and His All Stars. Although musicians frequently changed there, this band was a driving force for the rest of his career.

During the late 1950s, Armstrong became an ambassador of the U.S. State Department as he took part in their program created to improve America’s image in other countries through charity tours. Thanks to this program, the musician played in many corners of the world.  After his trip across the African continent, Armstrong became an official cultural diplomat in 1960.

Louis Armstrong

However, frequent touring not only contributed to Armstrong’s success, but also wore down his health. First he had a heart attack in 1959 and then had a health issue in 1968. Despite the doctor’s advice to stop playing, Armstrong practiced hard daily, in his home in Corona, Queens. After he returned to playing concerts in 1970, his health couldn’t take it anymore.  He died on July 6, 1971, a few months after his engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City.

Armstrong’s Musical Legacy

Armstrong created many hits, including "What a Wonderful World", "Hello, Dolly!”, ”On the Sunny Side of the Street", "Dream a Little Dream of Me", "When You're Smiling" and "When the Saints Go Marching In".

Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World”

A Ballad “What a Wonderful World” was recorded in 1967, four years before the musician’s death. Although he performed it in many countries, it did not receive much attention and was never promoted well in the United States. Everything changed after the song was included in the soundtracks of the Robin Williams film “Good Morning, Vietnam.” It was the time when it finally got its popularity and reached the 33rd number on the Billboard charts. The ballad became Louis Armstrong’s iconic creation.

Louis Armstrong “What a Wonderful World”

Awards and Grammies

Over 30 years of his musical career, Louis Armstrong played more than 300 concerts a year, recorded music and appeared in more than 30 films. The musician received many awards, such as the Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Performance, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Several of Armstrong's recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, including "St. Louis Blues", "Weather Bird", "All of Me", "When the Saints Go Marching In", "Hello, Dolly!” and "What a Wonderful World". According to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Armstrong's “West End Blues” was one of 500 songs that influenced Rock and Roll.

Louis Armstrong Awards and Grammys

Additional Interesting Facts about Louis Armstrong

  • He got a few nicknames: "Satchmo", "Satch", and "Pops".
  • Armstrong's jazz music made him a global ambassador, as it transcended racial and cultural barriers.
  • He was a charismatic performer, with remarkable stage presence and much respect within the music industry.
  • Armstrong was the musician who brought attention to solo performance apart from collective improvisation.
  • Louis was one of the first African-American performers who achieved widespread popularity with both White and international audiences.
  • He was also a talented composer who had written more than 50 songs, and many of them became jazz standards.


Louis Armstrong's contributions to jazz can’t be underestimated. With undeniable talent, remarkable personality and innovative approaches, he entered the history of world music and popular culture as one of the greatest performers. He was beloved by the public as a person and respected by fellow musicians as an artist.

In our blog, you can learn interesting facts about other musicians, including Clifford Brown, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Shew, Clark Terry, Wynton Marsalis and others.

Are you fond of playing jazz and searching for upgrades for your instrument? Check out our collection of accessories for brass, woodwind, orchestral string and percussion instruments.

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