August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971
Nicknamed “Satchmo,” Louis Armstrong was arguably the greatest performer jazz has ever known. Born into poverty in New Orleans, Armstrong’s young life was as tough as one could imagine – a father who abandoned the family and a mother who was forced to turn to prostitution. To get away, Armstrong hung out at the local dance halls of the city’s red light district, taking in the music of such greats as Joe “King” Oliver and Bunk Johnson who claimed he taught the young boy how to play the cornet. He would later take up the more familiar trumpet.
When he became proficient on the cornet, Armstrong got gigs playing on riverboats and in parade brass bands. It was only a matter of time before Armstrong was playing alongside the likes of Kid Ory, Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ella Fitzgerald and future wife, Lil Hardin. Throughout his career, Armstrong made countless recordings, appeared in film and on television, and made the cover of Time magazine in February of 1949. But it wasn’t until the world was caught up in Beatlemania, that he released his unlikely 1964 hit, “Hello Dolly.” The song had the distinct honor of not only making him the oldest artist (63) to reach the #1 slot on the pop charts, but also of knocking the Beatles out of the top slot for the first time in 14 weeks. Louis Armstrong died shortly after a heart attack at the age of 69.