Louis Satchmo Armstrong Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong was one of the most popular musicians of his time. Upon initiating my research, I was surprised to find conflicting dates as to when he was born. Encarta Africa said he was born in 1901, 1001 things to know about African American history-1898, regular Encarta – 1900, “Little Louis and the jazz band” by Angela Shelf Medearis says his date of birth is August 4, 1901. The book “Jazz Stars” by Richard Rennert states that Louis Armstrong was born in 1899, the book “Louis Armstrong” by Sam Tanenhaus says he was born on July 4, 1900. The reason why they have so many different dates is due to the fact that he probably wasn’t born in a hastpital and they did not use to keep good records of black people’s birthdays. So for accuracy sake, we can say he was born in the end of the 1800’s, or the beginning of the 1900’s. Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans, Louisiana.
His mother, Mary Albert was a 15 or 16-year-old prostitute. He lived with his mother, whom he called Mayann, and his younger sister, Beatrice, whom he called Mama Lucy, and his grandmother. His Father, William Armstrong, seldom visited little Louis. Ever since he was seven years old, Little Louis worked after school to help his mother. He sold buckets of coal late into the night.
During that time people used coal for heating and for cooking. He blew a tin party horn so that everyone knew that he had coal for sale. He found that if he took the wooden mouthpiece off the end of the horn and used two fingers over the end of the mouthpiece hole, he could play a tune. He wanted a real trumpet but he was too poor to buy one. Louis Armstrong’s neighborhood was poor but lively.
The men on the waterfront bellowed out rhythmic words and chants as they unlocked the ships. The washerwomen sang mournful spirituals as they scrubbed their loads of cloths. Day night, ragtime musicdanced out of the neighborhood honky-tonks. At night, Little Louis fell asleep to the sad songs of the local blues singers. Those sorrowful songs sounded like they were full of all the pain in the world. Little Louis enjoyed all kinds of music, but he loved the music played by the brass bands most of all.
Sometimes after a parade, Joe “king” Oliver, the best cornet player in New Orleans, would let Louis carry his cornet case. Little Louis wanted to make music too. He wanted to play a cornet just like King Oliver. In music, Armstrong discovered the path to success, after a New Year’s Eve prank in 1913. He had taken his stepfather’s .38-caliber pistol and six blanks and fired them into the air. Before he knew what was happening, a policeman had grabbed Little Louis by the arm.
Off went Little Louis in the custody of the New Orleans police. The judge decided to send him to the Colored Waifs Home for boys to keep him out of trouble. The home gave poor boys a chance to finish school and learn a trade. A military man, Captain Joseph Jones and his wife ran it. He ran the home military style. Little Louis was heart broken and home sick. Then one day he heard a brass band playing.
He followed the music and found himself in a room full of boys and instruments. He went to band rehearsal everyday and finally he was asked to join the band. The conductor of the band, Mr. Davis, first gave him a tambourine. Then Louis tried the drums. Then he tried the saxophone to play, and finally a cornet.
Mr. Davis helped Louis learn how to play the cornet properly. He showed Louis how to hold his mouth and use his breathing his throat and his stomach muscles to produce a good tone. In 1914, when Louis was thirteen years old, he was allowed to leave the home. Louis wasn’t little anymore. After two years of hard work, he had become a talented musician.
Louis noticed that New Orleans music was different. Ragtime was almost gone. A swinging new type of music was being played. People called this kind of music jazz. Jazz was a mix of African drum rhythms, work songs that slaves had sung, gospel hymns, a little European classical music, and a peppery seasoning of ragtime. A little bit of the blues was added for good measure.
As the years passed, more musicians started to pay attention to Louis. They started to call him “Satchel mouth” because of his large teeth and smile. Soon “Stchmo” was his nickname. King Oliver was especially kind to Louis. He let Louis fill in for him while he rested between songs, and if he had to many music engagements, he sent Louis to fill in for him. Louis found a job driving a coal cart in the day, but at night he was a first class jazz musician.
In 1917 Joe “King” Oliver leaves Kid Ory”s orchestra; and Louis replaces him. Louis loved playing in Kid Ory’s band. He would sail up and down the Mississippi River playing for the parties and dances. He learned how to read music and soon Louis was righting his own songs. IN 1918 he married Daisy Parker.
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