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Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on August 4, 1901. It is fitting that a man who is considered to be the most important improviser of jazz to have been born in what is widely known as the birthplace of jazz. His family was poor, so Armstrong began working at a young age singing on street corners for pennies, working on a junk wagon, cleaning graves for tips, and selling coal. Armstrong eventually taught himself to play the trumpet, and he began to perform with pick-up bands in small clubs and play at funerals and parades around town.
Armstrong was mentored by Joe “King” Oliver, and when Oliver moved to Chicago, Armstrong took his place in the Kid Ory’s band. Armstrong learned to read music and understand music as a profession after being hired to work on riverboats that traveled up and down the Mississippi. Armstrong’s career of touring and recording began in 1922 when Oliver invited him to play second cornet in his Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong’s first recording as a band leader came in 1925 with his Hot Five.
In 1929, Armstrong made his first appearance on Broadway, and his recording of Ain’t Misbehavin’ helped launch jazz into popular acceptance. His 1931 recording When It’s Sleepytime Down South became his theme song, and he toured domestically and internationally over the next few years.
Armstrong’s formation of the All-Stars in 1947 helped revitalize mainstream jazz, and the 1950s and 60s were filled with multiple film appearances and international tours. Armstrong continued to perform on and off up until his death on July 6, 1971. He was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1972, and he was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1973.
Check out the following video to go back in time to 1963 and see live performances and interviews of Louis Armstrong as he discusses his life and demonstrates his work.