When you think of Louis Armstrong you probably think of a jolly middle-aged man who can play the cornet like no one else, a man who had it all, a man who had the good life. Well, Louis was not always that lucky. From childhood to his adulthood, Louis Armstrong changed much as a person and a musician. He worked very hard to become what he became and did not let anything get in the way of becoming a musician. In this paper, you will read about how Louis Armstrong became one of the most influential Louis Armstrong”s childhood was not of the normal childhoods most of us have had.
He had a very hard and painful childhood. He was treated very harshly by his family and the people around him. His mother did not even care enough to keep his birth certificate. That is why no one is really sure of Louis”s birthdate ,but people believe he was born around 1898, in New Orleans. Around Louis”s time of birth, many blacks were confined to live in the slums. The slums were in a way like ghettos. They were very poor, dirty areas where people who hadn”t much money would live. In the slums, there was much violence, drug circulation and prostitution.
The only people that made any money in the slums were either the hustlers or the musicians. Considering Louis was not related to anyone of that status he and his family had very little money. That left Louis with no possessions whatsoever. He hadn”t any toys to play with, he didn”t even have a simple stick just to keep him occupied. His clothes were at the lowest of the low class. He was confined to wearing a dress as a younger child until he was a little older, then he had hand me down shirts and shorts to wear. His choice of foods was limited to rice and beans. His family did not make enough money to get better food than that.
His family did not have enough of anything to keep him happy. He felt like nobody loved him. When he was born his father left his mother and him to start another life with another family. His mother always was out leaving Louis to fend for himself. But before Louis had lived with his mother he lived with his grandmother. His grandma took the best care of him out of anybody in his family. She always made sure that Louis was fed and that he was not alone. She was the only person that really loved him. She would always take him to church on Sundays which gave Louis his first singing experience.
Louis loved his grandmother but, after seven years of living with her he moved 18 blocks away to live with his mother When he went to her house he found out that he had a new sister named Beatrice. She was nicknamed Mama Lucy. His mother would always be working long hours and drink in bars all night. That left Louis to take care of Mama Lucy and himself. Louis was luck enough to get work from a young white boy who helped him sell papers for pennies. He also sang in a street choir with some of his friends. As he got into his teen years he took up crapshooting.
All of these odd jobs brought in enough money to feed Mama Lucy and himself. When working was not getting him anywhere he could always find a careless r drunk person stumbling in the streets who would drop his/her money. Also, when nothing was working at all he would occasionally steal some food from the local grocery stores. But still being just a boy he was not satisfied with the title of being the bearer of food for his family. He wanted to be and do so many things. He idolized hustlers and their easy lives. With a life like one of theirs, Louis could do more things with his life and still support his family.
Also, Louis was starting to notice music. He always would admire the marching bands that would come booming down the streets and the blues that would ome blasting out of all the bars and “honky tonks”. Louis just wanted to be something more than he was. He was more into being a musician than being a hustler. That”s what he really wanted. So, on New Years Eve there was a big celebration. One kid picked up a gun with blanks and shot it at Louis. Louis then did the same to the kid but was caught in the act. Louis was put on a small trial in which the judge decided something that would start Louis off on his music career.
Louis was sent to the Colored Waif”s Home for poor black boys which he spent most of his childhood. The home was run under military lines. A bugler would use his bugle to wake up the boys, tell them when it was time to eat, and send them to bed. Also, the boys would do intensive drills with fake guns. There were many chores that each boy had to do as well to learn responsibility. At first the home was very new to him. He was homesick for quite some time. After a while though, people started to enjoy Louis”s company and that made him feel more welcome.
Once Louis got settled in, he noticed something that changed his life drastically. He found out that there was a band at the home. It was sort of a school band. They played some old tunes that had some blues influence to them. Louis liked this band a lot. He liked it so much that he would sit down at every band practice in hope that the band teacher ,Mr. Davis, would notice him and ask his to join the band. Finally a man that worked at the home named Captain Jones (he was called that because of the military ranking influence) got Louis involved with music.
A woman named Mrs. Spriggins would come to the home now and then to conduct a boy”s choir. Jones put Louis in the choir. He did so well that at the next practice as Louis sat and watched that band, Mr. Davis walked ver and asked Louis to join the choir. Of course he said yes and was from then on a musician no matter how bad he was. Davis started Louis on the tambourine. Louis”s joy turned a little sour when he was presented with the instrument but, he knew that it was a custom among the New Orlean”s African Americans to start out with rhythm instruments such as the tambourine or the drums.
It gets the musicians a feel for the beat they are to be playing so when they graduate to a more complicated instrument they will be able to keep an accurate beat throughout the whole song. So Louis swallowed his disappointment and layed his tambourine as best as possible. It was simple for Louis. he had been growing up listening to ragtime marches so keeping beat was natural to him. Not long after he started the tambourine Davis realized that Louis was ready to move a level up to the base drum. Louis played that with ease. He played it so well that not long after that he was moved up to mellophone or what we would today call an alto horn.
This was an important switch for Louis. The alto horn is very much like the cornet he played later in his life. Now Louis was in a spot. Like most of the boys in the band he could not read music. This is where singing in the street choir comes in to play. Louis was able to work out the notes by just hearing them. Once he found the notes on the horn, it was easy to play. He was so good that he was moved up to the bugler. The bugle was much different. It helped him form notes by forming his lips around the mouthpiece a special way and using his tongue as well then by blowing into the bugle would create different notes.
Soon Louis was moved to the cornet and became the head of the band. Louis was admired by the rest of the band not just for the music he played but for his humor as well. In the book the author writes that Davis ” I remember Louis used to walk funny with his feet and at the first note of music he”d break into comedy dances. He could sing real well as a boy, too, even though his voice was coarse. I”d play the horn and he”d dance, and when I”d put my horn down he”d pick it up and start playing it. “(Collier, Page 32) One day as the band was marching in the streets ,with Louis leading, they headed down Louis”s old street.
As Louis was playing some of the best music he had ever played at that time in his life all the people that knew him would point out their Little Louis. Louis felt o amazingly good. he was a musician, that was all he ever wanted to be. Louis was now around 16 years old. he had been living at the home for quite a few years. Sometimes his mother ,Mayann, would visit him. But one day Louis got a surpassing visit from someone he has not heard from since he was born. His own father, Willie Armstrong. Louis was curious why his father had come to see him. Willie wanted him out of the home.
But why? Louis was pondering that thought for some time and came to the conclusion that Willie wanted him to babysit his two sons because Willie and his wife had to work to provide for their family. Louis did it anyway as soon as his father convinced the judge to set him free. Louis did a lot of work caring for the kids. He did it until finally, Willie”s wife was again pregnant. That left Willie no choice but to send Louis back to his mother. Mayann and Mama Lucy were glad to see him all grown up. Once Louis was back, it was back to the same old thing. But this time Louis had a new plan.
He was going to become the musician he always wanted to be. Louis tried to become a big musician in the area of New Orleans he lived in. He wanted to be a person that people would always mention when they talked about music. To do that he tried to befriend some bigger musicians that could help him get gigs. So Louis would go to some of the “honk tonks” and listen to some music and get himself a 5 cent beer. He hung around there so much that he ended up meeting a drummer/hustler named Benny Williams. Benny would be conversing with another musician and Louis would stand there and wait to be noticed.
When Benny finally did so they talked for a while. Finally Benny noticed this short teenager was hanging around him quite a lot. He liked this kid. So Benny Williams adopted Louis as one of his very good friends. Benny as a tough guy who no one messed with and when people found out he was watching out for Louis, nobody messed around with him. Louis was on easy street. Benny helped Louis become a better musician by letting Louis sit for Benny and play with the other musicians though he was not yet good enough. As Louis would sit in and play with the musicians he would get increasingly better.
He was getting good enough to play in the “honky tonks”, and so he did. A while after Louis”s becoming a real musician, Benny was shot by his girlfriend. Louis would brag how Benny still lived a week with that old bullet n his heart, but that just is not possible. Louis was very sad but he got over it shortly. After the incident with Benny, Louis started being noticed musically. But Louis knew that he needed his own cornet by now. He could become even better if he could practice by himself more often. Louis has been borrowing other musicians instruments to play but he can”t take them home with him.
So one day Louis met up with that white boy that had helped him sell papers as a child. This boy said that he would sell him a cornet for ten dollars. Louis bought the beat up old thing but made it play beautifully. After Louis ad acquired his own instrument, he was used as a substitute for other cornet players. But when Louis substituted for these musicians he really showed them up. He played so well that the manager finally told him that he was good enough to be a regular player which meant he could be a star attraction. The manager of the club arranged him to play in a band with a drummer named Garbee, and a pianist named Boogus.
While Louis was playing in the band he started to get attached to another big musician. he was very well known throughout New Orleans. His name is Joe “King” Oliver. Oliver was the best cornetist in New Orleans. Louis got to know Oliver and his wife. Oliver would help Louis with cornet and Louis would often sit in for Oliver. Sometimes Oliver”s wife would invite Louis over to eat dinner with them. Finally Oliver got Louis on the right track. He recommended Louis to Kid Ory the best trombonist in New Orleans. Kid let Louis into his band. Louis did very well and Kid liked him a lot.
Louis was proud to be in the best Jazz band in New Orleans. The band mostly played dances. As Louis played in a band he also worked on a coal cart to earn more money. By doing those jobs he was earning a higher income and could afford more food. So with the steady income and the great band Louis was pretty satisfied with himself. But one day the band had to break up. Kid”s doctor told him to move to dryer climates because of coughing spells. So Kid moved to Los Angeles, California. Louis just played parades and had some non-serious bands with his musician friends while Ory was gone.
One dat Ory wrote to Louis asking him to move to L. A. with him. Considering Louis was scared of moving away from an area he already knows he said no. Louis then made himself even a better musician. Louis was asked by a man named Fate Marable to join a band on the Streckfus Line riverboat. Streckfus people were very strict with how they wanted the music to be played. The wanted perfect timing and a very clear sound. Louis was very worried because he could not read music. Luckily, two musicians named Joe Howard and David Jones helped Louis with his music reading abilities.
Considering Louis did not play all year ’round, Marable asked him to and he said yes because he was now ready. When Louis played many enjoyed listening to him. One time a man named Fletcher Henderson asked him to tour with him. Louis would only say yes if they would take along his friend Arthur Singleton ,Zutty, a good drummer. They said that they could so Louis said the same and they went their separate ways for the time being. Finally Louis heard from Oliver. He was in Chicago and wanted Louis to come down a play in his band. Louis was ready to do so.
He knew Oliver and felt comfortable around him so he did not feel alone. When Louis moved to Chicago, Oliver introduced him to a woman pianist named Lilian Hardin. At first she did not like Louis. She felt that he was a hick in a way because of his ratty old clothes and how he did not speak as proper as she did. But after a while she got to like Louis. They started dating a lot. Then on February 5, 1924 they were wed. Lil loved Louis very much and wanted only the best for him. She though ,and so did many other musicians, that Louis was too good for the band and should start his own.
Louis did not want to do that because after all, Oliver had done so much for him. But it happened anyway. The band started to fall apart because not only of Oliver”s bossiness but also he was holding each of the member”s pay secretly so they all turned on him and just quit. After that was over Louis joined and band with band leader Ollie Powers. That and was moving slowly but the pace for Louis was just about to pick up. Fletcher Henderson ,who asked him to tour with him when he was playing on the riverboats, wrote him to come to New York. He wanted him to be in his Jazz orchestra. Louis said yes.
While Louis was there he amazed them with his talents. He was and influence to many of them. One man would dress like him, talk like him and follow him around everywhere. He was now being considered the new king of Jazz. Louis was now asking Henderson if he could sing as well. Henderson was hesitant about it and would let him sing but not while hey record records. Louis then got a letter from Lil and she wanted him to come back to Chicago because she had arranged a band for him to lead. Louis thought it over and in October of 1925, Louis moved back to Chicago. His new band was great.
Louis recorded with his band ,The Hot Fives, at OKeh records. Those were some of the most important records he ever made. Louis would also sing and entertain at the Sunset Theater on the side. And later ,after some changes in the line up, the final group of Hot Fives were without many of the originals such as Lil on the piano. You could now tell that their arriage was now in trouble because of that. By 1928 they divorced and Louis got Earl Hines to replace her on the piano. The problem with Jazz then was that it was closing down in Chicago so Louis moved to Manhattan in 1929.
Now Louis was the best. Louis was now famous. He was the best cornetist in the world. He received an engraved watch that said so. But being famous was not all rewards. His introduction to the world of commercial music was very tough. There followed six years of desperate over work, nagging personal problems, appalling management and conflicts with Chicago nd New York gangs. Also, Louis was arrested and suspended for smoking pot, then he went right back to doing it. Another problem was still with Lil and the final relationship, but it all turned out that Lil and Louis stayed good friends.
He also had a problem with dated all the way back to the Waif”s Home. He has been using the wrong part of his lip to play cornet. It has been getting callused and that limited his playing abilities. It even got worse when in 1931, Louis made a mistake in hiring a failed mobster with a drinking problem ,named Johnny Collins, as management. Collins saw Louis as a meal ticket. Collins cheated Louis out of a lot of money and as a result of Collins” gangland connections, Louis”s lucrative secrets became the subject of gang rivalry.
But besides the gangs and personal problems, Louis was still trying to entertain the crowd. So Louis entered the movie business around the 1930″s. He was seen dressed in a leopard”s skin in Rhapsody in Blue and was a band conductor in a later film known as Hello Dolly. Also, in a Betty Boop cartoon, Louis is seen conversing with Betty and then serenading her. He career in t he movie business was rapidly growing. Louis was starting to enter the final phases of his career. First of all, he was remarried to a girl named Alpha Smith.
Alpha was very worried of what happened to Louis and Lil would happen to her, but it seemed to have not. But that was not the biggest issue going on in Louis”s life. The biggest started off in a 1946 movie called New Orleans. The movie had quite a line up of wonderful Jazz musicians. There was Kid Ory on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet, Zutty Singleton on drums, and the young Red Callendar on bass. This movie branched off a new band led by Louis called The All Stars. The All Stars were some of the guys from the movie and some old Hot Fives colleagues such as Earl Hines on Piano.
Traditional Jazz was back in business for quite some time. This band was the most well known band of all that Louis was in. They had a succession of hits, but the most well known would have to be Blueberry Hill. Now Louis was finally up to the peak of his career. In 1952 he was voted the most important musical figure of all time in Downbeat Magazine. Louis was also starting to speak his mind. Louis”s fame made him more confident to speak out against one of his biggest problems. Louis was standing up against racism. Louis was protesting on Eisenhower”s policy on race as gutless.
This angered many blacks who thought Louis should have stood up much earlier. Now Louis was trying to stay on top. Armstrong”s corncerts started to settle into a steady, routine of love songs and old favorites. Louis”s final phase of his career was getting nearer as the days passed. His health problems were getting worse as he ignored them which foreshadowed his final days on earth. He tried to ignore his heart problem for ten years. He was forced to acknowledge his precariousness f health when he had woke up one morning to discover that he had swollen up so much that he could not get his shoes on.
Soon after that Louis was ordered to stay at the Beth Israel Hospital under doctor”s orders. After his final concert he returned there for the last time. He was planning another concert when he died July 6, 1971. Louis”s death was deeply saddening for everyone, but especially Lil. She conducted the band at his funeral in his memory. A memorial service followed which President Nixon attended and spoke at. That was the sad ending of Louis Armstrong. To conclude my paper I would like to highlight Louis”s life. He was just a poor child from New Orleans.
He had very little education. He had to take care of his sister and himself 90% of the day until he was and adult. He had to work twice as hard as most people have to worked to get where he got to. He was just a simple man who from the beginning just wanted to play music. But he got so much more than just that and was able to fulfil his life to the fullest. Louis Armstrong will always be remembered as a wonderful man with a passion for playing the cornet beautifully. At least we have his music, movies and television appearances which keep him a live to this very day.