Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them.
~ Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971)
Louis Daniel “Satchmo” Armstrong was perhaps the best jazz musician and the greatest entertainment personality the world has ever known. The universal popularity of jazz can be directly attributed to the infectious style of performance that “Satchmo” gave and the unselfishness that characterized his persona. He literally took New Orleans-style music from its raw origins and introduced it to the world as a refined art form.
His trumpet playing revolutionised the world of music. He introduced the extended solo and for many his “scat” singing was the perfection of a genre just then in its infancy.
Satchmo,” (short for “Satchel Mouth,” a nickname he earned for his trademark wide grin) played for presidents in the White House, in palaces for European royalty and for high-ranking officials on his beloved continent of Africa. He frequently toured internationally as a special envoy for the U.S. State Department and represented his country and New Orleans with dignity, charm and class. At every stop he made over a half century of performing, he always promoted his love for New Orleans and an avowed passion for red beans and rice. But of all the accolades he received, one of the greatest he ever cited was being selected King of Zulu during Mardi Gras 1949. The photo of him as Zulu King made the cover of TIME magazine.
In the early ’30s, Armstrong’s popularity had reached such epic proportions that he and his band toured Europe, a major milestone, especially for a young black performer.
In early 1964, at age 62, Armstrong achieved the distinction of being the oldest musician ever to have a #1 song on the Billboard charts. His version of the popular show tune, “Hello Dolly” was the first record to knock The Beatles out of the top position they held for 14 straight weeks with three separate songs.
He died in New York City on July 6, 1971, a month short of his 70th birthday.
Two statues in New Orleans have been erected in Armstrong’s honor, one adjacent to the Canal Street Ferry landing, and the other in the park named for him on North Rampart Street. In 2001, his centennial year, New Orleans International Airport was renamed after him and the Satchmo SummerFest introduced.
The history of jazz is filled with many exceptional and innovative musicians, but it is hard to find anyone who has had as profound an influence on the movement as the great Louis Armstrong.