Sunday, February 3, 2008

Black History: Louis Armstrong

One of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, Louis Armstrong was responsible for innovations that filtered down through popular music to rock and roll. Armstrong himself put it like this: “If it hadn’t been for jazz, there wouldn’t be no rock and roll.” If it hadn’t been for Armstrong, popular music of all kinds - from jazz and blues to rock and roll - would be considerably poorer. As a trumpet player, Armstrong was a pioneering soloist and one of the first true virtuosos in jazz. As a singer, he was one of the originators of scat-singing, and his warm, ebullient vocal style had a big impact on the way all pop music was sung. As an entertainer, his charismatic presence allowed him to break through race barriers to become one of the first black superstars - a figure who would eventually become known as America’s Jazz Ambassador. Born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901, Armstrong was sent to a boys home at age 12, where he learned to play cornet. He apprenticed with his idol, Joe “King” Oliver, in 1917 and joined Oliver’s band in Chicago in 1922. Armstrong also played in Kid Ory’s band, where he replaced Oliver at the latter’s suggestion. As a bandleader in his own right, Armstrong cut some revolutionary jazz recordings with His Hot Five and His Hot Seven between 1925-27. He continued to sing and play jazz brilliantly into the Fifties and Sixties, even managing to unseat The Beatles from the top of the charts in 1964 with his spirited rendition of “Hello, Dolly!” from the Broadway musical of the same name. This feat made him the oldest musician in Billboard history to have a Number One song. Armstrong died at age 69 on July 6, 1971.

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