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louis armstrong

Louis Armstrong almost single-handedly brought jazz to a global audience. He was one of the most influential artists in the music's history and became a universally loved popular entertainer, his stage personality rooted in the vaudeville and minstrel eras. Unafraid of his success and impervious to 'Uncle Tom' accusations, 'Satchmo' never diluted his views and spoke out on Civil Rights issues and injustice. His achievement is all the more extraordinary when you consider his crushingly deprived upbringing.

Armstrong was born on July 4th 1900 into abject poverty in the black slums of New Orleans. His father was a workman and his mother a maid and prostitute. Louis and his younger sister roamed the red light district of Storyville until his delinquency landed him in the Coloured Waifs Home when he was 12. It was here he first learned the cornet. He worked odd jobs while playing with various bands. His repertoire of songs grew under the influence of renowned cornetist Joe King Oliver. Louis worked on trains and riverboats as well as local clubs.

With a growing reputation, Armstrong was brought to Chicago in 1922 to join Oliver's Creole Jazz Band which performed for both black and white audiences at the Lincoln Gardens ballroom. Louis and Oliver developed a unique dual cornet style that would feature on many early recordings for the Gennett, Okeh and Columbia labels in 1922-1923, including Working Man's Blues, Chimes Blues and Riverside Blues. In Oliver's band Louis met pianist Lil Hardin whom Armstrong wed in 1924 (his second of four wives). At Lil's prompting, Armstrong left Oliver and joined band leader Fletcher Henderson in New York in 1924. Louis' individual style was a novelty within a highly arranged, big band format. With Henderson, Louis made his first vocal recording, Everybody Loves My Baby. Louis was also in demand for small-group jazz recordings and as an accompanist for classic blues singers like Ma Rainey, Clara Smith and Bessie Smith on tracks such as Reckless Blues and St. Louis Blues.
Okeh Records noticed that the songs that sold best often featured Louis' uncredited playing so they signed him to an exclusive contract in 1925. Okeh began recording Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five in Chicago. This led to the band being augmented by drum and tuba on Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven recordings in 1927.

With parallel careers as band leader, singer and dance band soloist, by 1929 Louis had become a bona fide pop star. He popularised tunes like Tiger Rag, Shine, The Peanut Vendor and Stardust. But the impact of the Depression on the Chicago nightclub scene led Louis to New York in 1930 to star in the Fats Waller Broadway revue, Hot Chocolates. Ain't Misbehavin' became the first of many Armstrong jukebox hits. His broad appeal led to a recording stint with country and western star Jimmie Rodgers before he was jailed briefly for possessing marijuana. By now, Louis had become a consummate showman, often performing 365 nights in a row during the '30s. But he was forced to rest when he began to sense the chronic lip problem from which he would suffer over the next three decades.

Louis' manager Joe Glaser took over Satchmo's career in 1935, and immediately negotiated a contract with Decca Records. Louis' pop profile was strengthened as a result of records with fellow Decca artists the Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Tommy Dorsey, and Ella Fitzgerald. The following year (1936) he made his Hollywood debut in Pennies From Heaven, co-starring Bing Crosby, who became another duet partner. Louis went on to make over 50 films, including Cabin In the Sky (1943), High Society (1956) starring Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, The Five Pennies and Hello, Dolly! (1969) with Barbra Streisand.

The uncertain economic situation after the end of World War II put a temporary end to the big band era and Louis and many others cast about for a new direction. A Carnegie Hall small combo date with Jack Teagarden and other jazz 'vets' led to the formation of Louis Armstrong's All Stars in 1947. It was such a critical and commercial success that the All Stars (with varying lineups over the next 20 years), became Armstrong's regular touring and recording unit. The '50s lineup was featured on Columbia albums such as Satch Plays Fats, Ambasador Satch and Satchmo The Great.
After 1954, Armstrong recorded on a freelance basis for various labels, collaborating with Ella Fitzgerald on Porgy and Bess in 1960 and with Dave Brubeck and Duke Ellington. In 1969 he provided the vocals to that year's James Bond title track, We Have All The Time In The World, from the film On Her Majesty's Secret Service although the song would only be a hit some 30 years later when it was used as part of a Guinness TV advert. In 1970, a vocal album, Louis and His Friends included a cover of John Lennon's Give Peace A Chance and featured guest slots from Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman. His final album was a selection of country songs recorded in Nashville. Despite serious health problems dating from a heart attack in 1959 and his lip problem, which limited his trumpet playing, Louis continued to tour until 1970. He died of heart and kidney failure in July 1971. ends

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