By virtue of the role he played in its evolution during the first quarter of the 20th century, Louis Armstrong is regarded as the most influential jazz musician in history. This distinction is coupled with his stewardship of jazz around the world over the next five decades as the earliest and greatest ambassador of America's first true musical art form.
With the liberating effects of the Jazz Age reverberating on world culture since the 1930s, Satchmo's contributions to society are now measured alongside those of the greatest artists, philosophers and statesmen of the modern era. In the year 2000, we celebrate the centennial of his birth on August 4, 1901a date that Louis took with him throughout his life. While historical evidence discovered nearly two decades after his 1971 death suggested a different birth date, there has never been any conclusive reason to dispute Pops' own c.v.
Vital and productive from the 1920s to the 1960s, Louis Armstrong provided jazz with its quantum leap forward - his Hot Five and Hot Seven group recordings for the OKeh Records label between 1925 and 1928. They were the culmination of all he had accomplished in music to that point. Born in abject poverty in the worst black slum in turn-of-the-century New Orleans, his father was a workman and his mother a maid and prostitute. Louis and his younger sister roamed the red light district of Storyville, until his delinquency landed him in the Colored Waifs Home around age 12. In the institution's band he learned several instruments, eventually settling on cornet.
As a teenager with his sights set on becoming a musician, he worked odd jobs while playing in a variety of bands. His repertoire of songs grew under the influence of renowned cornetist Joe 'King' Oliver (himself a contemporary of Bunk Johnson), and Louis' own profile blossomed. When Oliver left for Chicago around 1919, Louis took his place in Kid Ory's band and started traveling widely. He worked on trains and riverboats as well as in local clubs in bands led by Ory, Fate Marable, and Zutty Singleton, and in street parade groups such as Papa Celestin's Tuxedo Band.
Armstrong joined Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1922, playing for mixed black and white audiences at the famed Lincoln Gardens ballroom. They made their first recordings together in 1923 (for the OKeh, Columbia and Gennett labels), with a combo that included (most of the) future members of the Hot Five and Hot Seven. Among them were Oliver's pianist Lillian Hardin, whom Armstrong wed in '24 (his second of four wives). It was Lil who convinced Louis to move to New York that year, to join Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.