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Born in to poverty, Louis became one of the world's leading jazz musicians against the odds. Read his fascinating story...
Louis Armstrong, also known as 'Satchmo' or 'Pops' was born on the 4th of August, 1901 to a poor family in New Orleans. Life was tough early on. His father abandoned the family shortly after Louis was born and Armstrong and his younger sister were brought up by their mother and grandmother. His mother turned to prostitution to make money for the family and Louis took many odd jobs to help his family make ends meet.
Louis was quite the trouble-maker! On New Year's Eve in 1912, he fired a gunshot in the air as part of the celebrations and was arrested on the spot. He was sent to a home for delinquent boys but lucky for him, this was where he learned to play the cornet and became a band leader at the home.
When he was released from the home, Louis was keen to pursue a career in music and found a mentor in town - Joe 'King' and no we're not! At just 17 years old, he married prostitute Daisy Parker, and they adopted a three year old boy named Clarence who was mentally disabled. Armstrong cared for him his entire life.
After honing his music reading skills, Armstrong was called to Chicago where the jazz scene was booming. There he met his next wife, musician Lillian, and they married in 1924. Lillian really pushed Louis' career and on her advice, the couple moved to New York to perform with a top African-American dance band.
Returning to Chicago, Louis formed the 'Hot Five' and 'Hot Seven' - groups that released more than 60 records that are some of the most influential in jazz music. During this time, he also made the decision to switch to playing the trumpet.
By the early '30s, Satchmo was also a touring movie star but years of blowing his horns had caused serious damage to his lips. On top of this, he had split with Lillian and fell out with his manager. With all this bad luck, he decided to take some time off and stayed in Europe.
Returning to Chicago in 1935, Louis hooked up with club owner Joe Glaser who promised to help turn his career around. He kept his word! Over the next decade, Satchmo's career as a movie star grew and grew, as did his music career. He recorded hits for Decca Records including 'La Vie En Rose' and 'A Kiss To Build A Dream On'. He also formed jazz band - 'The All Stars' whose many members went on to be music legends.
During the '50s and '60s, Louis performed throughout Europe, Africa and Asia and he became a well-known public figure. Around this time, racial tension was at an all time high in the States and when nine students were prevented from entering Little Rock Central High School, Louis made headlines saying, "The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell."
Despite having a heart attack in 1959, Satchmo continued working up to 300 nights a year. In 1964, he had a no.1 hit with the title song to musical 'Hello Dolly' which knocked The Beatles of the top spot in the States. In 1967, he recorded one of his most famous songs - 'What A Wonderful World'. It wasn't a hit in the U.S. but reached the top spot in many other countries.
Satchmo passed away in his sleep in 1971 at his home in Queens, New York. He left behind his fourth wife, Lucille, whom he had been married to since 1942. Despite never having children with any of his wives, he did have a daughter with a musician he had dated on the side – Sharon Preston was born in 1955. However, Louis never publicly acknowledged her as his daughter during his life.
Louis is recognised as one of the leading figures in jazz music for his innovative playing and singing style. As well as this, his music crossed racial boundaries and he became an international star. His inimitable voice is one of our favourites on Smooth!