Americana Assembly Song of the Week: "The Halls of Montezuma" The Official Song of the US Marines.
Musician of the Week: Louis Armstrong
Monday "What a Wonderful World"
Louis Armstrong was a trumpeter, bandleader, singer, soloist, film star, comedian, and most importantly, a true overcomer. He is still considered one of the most influential artists in jazz history.
Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo”, was born on August 4, 1901, in New Orleans, Lousiana. He was born in a section of New Orleans that was so poor, it was called “the Battlefield.” Formally, this district was called the Storyville district. Several well-known jazz musicians grew up here. Musicians such as Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver and Jimmy Noone.
Armstrong had a difficult childhood. His father was a factory worker and abandoned the family soon after Louis's birth. His mother often left him with his grandmother while she worked and eventually, she abandoned Louis too.
Louis had to quit school in the 5th grade so that he could work to help support his family. A Jewish family, the Karnofskys, gave young Armstrong a job collecting junk and delivering coal. They also encouraged him to sing and often invited him into their home for meals.
Listening Example: "What a Wonderful World"
Given his extraordinarily sad circumstances in life, it is a wonder that Satchmo was able to still see the world as “wonderful.” Today we will listen to Louis’ song, “What a Wonderful World.”
Other covers of "What a Wonderful World"
Tuesday "A Kiss to Build a Dream On"
Louis Armstrong, or Satchmo, grew up in New Orleans, Lousiana. New Orleans is known as the birthplace of Jazz. In the early years, it was the only place that slaves were allowed to own and use instruments such as drums.
When he was 8 years old, Louis was arrested for firing a gun in public. That arrest led him to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. This was like an orphanage for boys who got into trouble.
This may have seemed like a tragic thing to have happened; however, this was a turning point in Armstrong’s life. At the Waif’s home, he was introduced to music. They had a band and he found that he was a talented trumpet player.
Listening Example: "A Kiss to Build a Dream On"
A Kiss to Build a Dream On" is a song composed by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and Oscar Hammerstein II in 1935.] It was recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1951.
Other versions of this song
Wednesday "Potato Head Blues"
In addition to being a master performer, Louis Armstrong was a gifted composer, and he wrote more than fifty songs, many of which have become jazz standards. Louis also collaborated with other musicians, such as Joe “King” Oliver, and his second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, and in some cases it’s not always clear if the song was a collaboration or not.
Joe “King” Oliver was Louis’ mentor. He was considered to be one of the greatest cornet players in town, at the time. He had created a Creole Jazz Band in Chicago, Illinois, and wanted Armstrong to be a part of it. Armstrong didn’t really want to leave the career he had built in New Orleans, but King Oliver was very convincing and, in 1922, Armstrong found himself traveling to Chicago.
Quickly, Armstrong was taking Chicago by storm with his remarkably fiery playing and the dazzling two-cornet breaks that he shared with Oliver. He made his first recording with Oliver on April 5, 1923; that day he earned his first recorded solo on “Chimes Blues.”
Listening Example: "Potato Head Blues"
"Potato Head Blues" is a Louis Armstrong and King Oliver composition regarded as one of his finest recordings. It was performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Seven band in Chicago, Illinois on May 10, 1927. It was recorded during a remarkably productive week in which Armstrong's usual Hot Five was temporarily expanded to seven players by the addition of tuba and drums.
Other Jazz tunes by Louis Armstrong
Thursday "Sleepytime Down South"
By the 1930’s, Satchmo had become quite famous and was touring the nation performing concerts in Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Washington, D.C., setting a pattern of extensive touring that continued for the rest of his career.
In 1931, Armstrong appeared in his first fim, “Ex-Flame”. He was the first black American to perform at the Roof Garden of the Kentucky Hotel in Louisville. After that, he made a triumphant return to New Orleans—his first visit since he departed in 1922. At that time, he recorded “When It’s Sleepytime Down South,” which became his theme song.
In 1936, Armstrong recorded his song “Swing that Music”. This song amazed audiences because he was able to hit 42 high C’s, followed by a high e flat. This was an amazing thing to do on a trumpet. It still a challenge for brass musicians today.
Listening Example: "Sleepytime Down South" Louis Armstrong
Today’s listening example is Armstrong’s theme song, “Sleepytime Down South.” The lyrics concern the Great Migration in the United States, the movement of African Americans from the South to cities in the North, with the singer talking about the "dear old Southland... where I belong". The song contained many racial stereotypes. Armstrong's popularity among African-American audiences dropped because of the song, but at the same time it helped the trumpeter to make his fan base broader.
Other Louis Armstrong Performances
Ever wondered how Louis Armstrong got the nickname “Satchmo”? One story took place in Paris. People called him satchel mouth because of his large mouth. One executive came to meet him and accidentally stumbled over the words satchel and mouth and called him Satchmo. Louis liked the name so much that it stuck!
Listening Example: Mini Biography-Louis Armstrong
Today, we will watch a mini biography of Armstrong’s life in which you will learn about how he paved the way for, not just African American musicians, but jazz musicians as well. Armstrong was truly a remarkable person who overcame poverty and an unlucky childhood and became a true American icon.