Thursday, August 4, 2011

Louis Armstrong

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 4,1901 Thursday will mark the 110th Anniversary of Louis Armstrong's birth. Lois Armstrong grew up in  Uptown, New Orleans in poverty, abandoned by his father as an infant, for another woman and his mother, who was a prostitute, left him and his younger sister in the care of his paternal grandmother and sometimes his Uncle Isaac. When he was five Louis Armstrong once again lived with his mother and her family and only saw his father at parades.

In hopes of getting his mother out of prostitution and while going to Fisk School for Boys,where he is surmised to have been first exposed to Creole music, Louis Armstrong started working as a paperboy, cleaning graves, hauling coal to New Orleans famed red-light district, Storyville and doing odd jobs for the Karnofsky family. They were Lithuanian-Jewish immigrants who owned a junk hauling business. But even with all of these jobs there was not enough money to get his mother out of prostitution.  While hauling coal around Storyville he would listen to the bands that performed at brothels and dance halls, especially Pete Lala's, where Joe Oliver performed and other famous musicians would drop in to jam. of course he was also exposed to the brass bands that accompany New Orleans funerals and parades. All of the music that surrounded Armstrong was a source of great inspiration for him. When he was 11 years old  Armstrong dropped out of school to join a quartet of boys that sang on the streets to earn money. And even though Armstrong credited "King Oliver with teaching Armstrong to play the horn, cornet player Buck Johnson had said he was the one who taught an 11 year old Armstrong to play the cornet.

 The Karnofsky family not only gave him a job,but took him in and treated him as a member of their family because they knew Armstrong's father was out of the picture and would feed and nurture him. While living with the family Armstrong was exposed to the discrimination that Jewish families experienced by other white people. Because of this Armstrong wore a Star of David pendant for the rest of his life. 

  Even with help from the Karnofsky's Armstrong  could not stay out of trouble, usually for general delinquency but one time it was a more serious case, in which he was sent to New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, for firing his step-father's pistol in the air while celebrating New Year's Eve. While at the home, Armstrong, started taking his cornet playing seriously, because Prof. Peter Davis, at the request of the Homes administrator, instilled discipline in and provided musical training in the primarily self-taught Louis Armstrong.Davis eventually made him bandleader. The Home band played around New Orleans and at age 13, Louis Armstrong began to receive attention for his cornet plying. This would be the starting point of his career. When he was 14 he was released from the Home and was back with his father and new stepmother and then right back with his mother and also the streets with its temptations. Armstrong was able to find a job at a dance hall where Black Benny, a new Orleans- based bass drummer of legendary importance, became Armstrong's protector and guide.

  Later on Armstrong began to perform with pick-up bands in clubs and to play at funerals and parades. He captured the attention and respect of some of the older musicians,mainly "King " Oliver, who played in Kid Ory's band, became Armstrong's mentor. When Joe "King" Oliver decided to quit Ory's band and to go north, in 1919, Armstrong was his replacement. A year later Armstrong was hired to work on riverboats that traveled the Mississippi. This enabled him to work with many prominent jazz musicians, such as Fate Marable, which gave Armstrong a broader experience working with written arrangements.

  In 1922 Oliver invited Armstrong to play second cornet in his Creole Jazz Band. as a member of the band, Armstrong began his lifetime of touring and recording. Plus as his reputation grew, Armstrong would be challenged to "cutting contest"by hornmen trying to displace the new phenom, who could blow 200 high C's in a row. He moved to New York, in 1924, to play in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom. When he went to play with Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, Armstrong switched to the trumpet in order to blend in with the other musicians in his section. Armstrong quickly adapted to the more tightly controlled style of Henderson, even experimenting with the trombone. other members quickly took up Armstrong's emotional, expressive pulse. Soon Armstrong's act included singing and telling stories of New Orleans characters. In 1925 Louis Armstrong returned to Chicago, due mainly to Lil's urging who wanted to pump up her husband's career and income. He wasn't to thrilled with going back to Chicago, because Armstrong liked New York, but he latter admitted that his wife was right that the Orchestra was limiting his artistic growth. He made his first recordings as the bandleader of his own band, which included Kid Ory on trombone, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, Johnny Dodds on clarinet and Lil Hardin on piano, known as  Hot Five ( later Hot Seven).St. Cyr stated "One felt so relaxed working with him and he was very broad-minded...always did his best to feature each individual."  From'25 to'28, Armstrong continued his rigorous schedule of recording and performing, which included Heebie Jeebies the song that introduced the world to scat singing and also to West End Blues one of the most famous recordings of jazz.

 Armstrong returned to New York City in 1929 and played in the pit orchestra of the successful musical "Hot Chocolate", an all black review written by Andy RazafenRazaf and piano/composer, Fats Waller. Armstrong also made a cameo as a vocalist,regularly stealing the show with his rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'". The recording of "Ain;t Misbehavin'" introduced the use of a pop song as material for jazz interpretation, helping set the stage for popular acceptance of jazz that would come. 


  The Great Depression of the early 1930's  was especially hard on the jazz scene causing a lot of jazz clubs, including the famous Cotton Club, to shut down. Because of the evaporation of club gigs many musicians stopped playing all together.But Armstrong was smart and in 1930 moved to Los Angeles to find new opportunities There he played in the new Cotton Club with Lionel Hampton on drums. The band brought in the Hollywood crowd,because they were the ones that still had money, while radio broadcast from the club gave him a greater exposer to people in their homes. Armstrong made his first movie appearance in1931's Ex-Flame. It was also in 1931 that he recorded, what became his theme song, "Sleepytime Down South". In late '31 he returned to Chicago to play in bands more in the line of Guy Lombardo and record more standards. But because of past involvement with the mob, they suggested that Armstrong leave Chicago. So he payed a visit to new Orleans whee he got a hero's welcome and caught up with old friends. He also sponsored a local baseball team and had a cigar named after him. But he was soon back on the road touring America and when he was done here he went on a European tour.

When he came back to the U.S. in 1935 Joe Glaser, a tough mob-connected wheeler-dealer, became  Armstrong's manager.He was able to take care of Armstrong's mob trouble,  his debt and his legal troubles.Glaser remained his manager for the duration of Armstrong's career and help make him an international star. Armstrong branched out developing his vocals style and and making his first theatrical appearance because his unorthodox way of playing the trumpet was causing him problems with his lips and fingers. In 1937, he substituted for Rudy Valee on the CBS radio network, making him the first African-American to host a sponsored,national broadcast.

  After spending many years on the road, he settled down in Queens,New York in 1943, with his fourth wife, Lucille Wilson, who had been a dancer at the Cotton Club. In 1947, Armstrong formed a small ensemble known as the All-Stars, a group of extraordinary players whose success revitalized mainstream jazz. Throughout the 1950's and '60's  he continued to appear in popular films and made many international tours. During a trip to West Africa he was greeted by more than one hundred thousand people. In the early '60's he recorded two albums with Duke Ellington and in 1964 . At the age of 63, Armstrong knocked the Beatles off the #1 spot on the music charts with, what would become his biggest hit, "Hello Dolly!"

Armstrong would perform regularly until recurring health problems gradually curtailed his singing and trumpet playing. Even in the last years of his life, Armstrong went to London twice, appeared in more than a dozen television shows and performed at the Newport Jazz Festival to celebrate his 70th birthday. Up until his death, of a heart attack in his sleep, on July 6,1971, he was setting up band rehearsals in preparation to perform.

Little bit more information about his marriages and other things below.

   While he was busy trying to get his start Louis Armstrong did find time to get married he married Daisy Parker from Gretna, Louisiana on March 19, 1918 ( St. Joseph's Feast Day). They adopted a 3 year old boy,Clarence, whose mother, Louis' cousin Flora, had died in childbirth. As a result of a head injury at an early age, Clarence was mentally disabled and Louis spent the rest of his life taking care of his son. Maybe the strain of having a disabled child was too much for his marriage for Daisy and his marriage quickly fell apart and they divorced. Sadly though Daisy died shortly after their divorce. He married his second wife Lil Hardin, a jazz composer, arranger, singer, bandleader and jazz pianist in her  own right, on February 4,1924. When they first met she thought that his clothes and hair were "too country" so she set about to "take the country out of him". Lil also had her husband play classical music in church concerts to broaden his skill and improve his solo performance. In the late '20's Armstrong and Hardin grew apart finally resulting in a separation  because Armstrong had begun an affair with Alpha Smith. They finally divorced in 1938 letting Armstrong marry Alpha. I don't know when Alpha And he divorced but in 1942 he had married Lucille Watson a dancer at the Cotton Club where his band had a running engagement.

An unbilled Louis Armstrong on horn appeared on Jimmie Rodgers "Standing On the Corner (Blue Yodel #9) July 16.1930.

 First jazz musician to appear on the cove of Time Magazine on February 21,1949.

"What A Wonderful World" was released in 1968. It  reaced #1 on the UK Singles Cart but only made it to #116 in America.

Accused of being an "Unlce Tom" from the late 1950's to the early 1970's. Because according to some other African-Americans he kowtowed to white people at the expense of the black community.

Was highly criticized by outsiders, who did not know or care to understand the history, for his acceptance of the title King of Zulu for 1949's Mardi Gras. In the New Orleans African-American community it is an honored role to head the leading black Carnival Krewe, but bewildering or offensive to outsiders with there traditional costume of grass skirts and blackface  make-up satirizing southern white attitudes.

Armstrong called President Eisenhower gutless and two-faced because of Eisenhower's inaction over school desegregation  in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. This made the news. As a protest, Armstrong canceled a plan tour of the U.S.S.R. on behalf of the State Department stating "The way they're treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell." and that he couldn't represent his government overseas when it was in conflict with its own people. Six days later Eisenhower ordered federal troops to Little Rock to escort the children into school.

The F.B.I. kept a file on Armstrong for his outspokenness on integration.

KREWE OF ZULU LINK: http://www.kreweofzulu.com/


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