Born into the slums of segregated New Orleans on Aug. 4th,1901, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong spent most of his time, as a kid, on the street, singing with other neighborhood kids for money. Having the biggest mouth any of his friends had ever seen, Armstrong was nicknamed “Satchmo”, short for “satchel mouth”. Growing up with parents that neglected him, Armstrong wound up getting into trouble and was placed in the New Orleans Waif’s Home. This was where Armstrong was introduced to the instrument that changed his life, the coronet. Peter Davis, the home’s band instructor, taught Armstrong his first music lesson and gave him his first coronet. He quickly mastered the coronet and turned to the instrument that sparked his future, the trumpet. After leaving the Waif’s Home, Armstrong realized he had no education or trained skills for a job. He then chose to strive to do the only thing he knew how to do, play music.
At the age of eighteen, Armstrong met and joined the band of one of Jazz’s founding fathers, Joe Oliver. After playing in the Kid Ory Band for a couple years, Joe Oliver moved to Chicago, leaving Armstrong behind in New Orleans. Armstrong then struggled, making little money, playing on riverboats, traveling up and down the Mississippi River. Luckily, in 1922, Joe Oliver invited Armstrong to Chicago to play in his Creole Jazz Band. Starting off in the South Side nightclub Lincoln Gardens, Armstrong quickly spread his name across the Chicagoland area. Within two years, the Creole Jazz Band was known nationwide, due to the making of their first album with the newly invented phonograph. Realizing how advanced his skills were compared to the rest of the band, Armstrong left the band to pursue a solo career. It was then that Armstrong put jazz on the map for good. Playing in Chicago with his hit band the “Hot Five” and later the “Hot Seven”, Armstrong made jazz become an interracial enterprise. Segregation was alive and well in Chicago in the late 1920’s but with Chicago’s Black-and-Tan Clubs and Armstrong’s electrifying performances, people of all backgrounds came together in the nightclubs of the South Side.
Armstrong later moved on to more sizable venues, playing in New York, California, Europe, and beyond. Some of his biggest hits were “What a Wonderful World” and “Hello, Dolly!”. Having his international fame established, Armstrong tried his part in other forms of entertainment. Armstrong began his acting career in 1931, starring in movies such as, “Ex-Flame” and “Pennies from Heaven”. Armstrong also became a television star between the 1950s, 60s and 70s performing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Bing Crosby Show for Oldsmobile”. But Armstrong never forgot where his fame started. Even after spending the rest of his life living in New York and ultimately dying of a heart attack in 1971, Armstrong always considered himself a Chicagoan.
In honor of Armstrong, a Chicago public school was named after him called, Armstrong L. Elementary. However, the school closed down in the summer of 2013 due to underutilized facilities and below average test scores. The public elementary school, formerly located in the Austin neighborhood was relocated in fall of 2013 to Leland Elementary School a couple blocks east.
Watrous, Peter. “Louis Armstrong”, New York Times, 2014
Grossman, Ron. “Satchmo’s South Side Days.” Chicago Tribune, August 19 1997.
“Louis Armstrong’s Artistry.” Chicago Tribune: 1. Aug 19 1997.
Howard Reich, “August 9, 1922 Louis Armstrong Trumpets in Jazz Series: Chicago Tribune 150 Years. Events That Shaped Chicago.” Chicago Tribune: 2. May 27 1997.
“N. Y. Turns Out To See Louis Armstrong At Apollo Theatre; He Stays In Chicago.” The Chicago Defender: 8. Feb 23 1935
Armstrong, Louis, Brothers, Thomas David. Louis Armstrong, “In His Own Words: Selected Writings.” Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2001, c1999
— Joe Anderson