Louis Armstrong

Active - 1932 - 2019  |   Born - Aug 4, 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana, United States  |   Died - Jul 6, 1971   |   Genres - Music, Musical, Comedy

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Biography by Hal Erickson

The life story of African American jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong could fill a dozen books, and in fact it has. Rising to fame with his own "Hot Five" group in the 1920s, "Satchmo" Armstrong (the nickname is derived from "Satchelmouth"; incidentally, he was known to his closest friends as "Pops") was a seasoned pro when movies began demanding his services in 1930. His earliest film appearances-- notably the Betty Boop cartoon (!) I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You (32)--exemplified the "dangerous," sexually suggestive Armstrong who had become famous in nightclubs and on 78 RPM records. The racial barriers of 1930s Hollywood required Armstrong to smooth out his rough edges and sometimes to come in through the servant's entrance; in 1938's Going Places, for example, he appears as a stableboy, and introduces the lively but comparatively antiseptic ditty "Jeepers Creepers." Armstrong was serendipitously teamed with Bing Crosby on two memorable occasions: the 1936 musical drama Pennies From Heaven and the 1956 tune-filled remake of Philadelphia Story, High Society. Usually cast as himself (or a thinly disguised facsimile), Louis was given a rare chance to act in the 1943 all-black MGM musical Cabin in the Sky, playing the heavenly emissary "The Trumpeter." In 1964, Louis Armstrong scored so huge a hit with his recording of the title tune from the Broadway musical Hello Dolly that he was arbitrarily written into the 1969 film version, sharing a few precious on-screen moments with Barbra Streisand; it was the last of his 25 feature-film appearances.

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  • Earned money as a member of a street-corner singing quartet as a child. 
  • Learned to play the cornet as a youth while in a home for juvenile delinquents.
  • Received the nickname Satchelmouth as a child, which was later shortened to Satchmo.
  • Developed his jazz talents as a teenager by performing on riverboats along the Mississippi. 
  • Recorded music for the first time in 1923 as a member of King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band.
  • Also pursued a career as an actor, appearing in more than 20 films.        
  • Wrote the autobiographies Swing That Music (1936) and Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (1954).