What a wonderful world – LOUIS ARMSTRONG
Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter, singer, and an influential figure in jazz music.
Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also skilled at scat singing (vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics).
Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong’s influence extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to “cross over”, whose skin color was secondary to his music in an America that was severely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation during the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for men of color.
Literature, radio, films and TV
Armstrong appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood films, usually playing a band leader or musician. His most familiar role was as the bandleader cum narrator in the 1956 musical, High Society, in which he sang the title song and performed a duet with Bing Crosby on “Now You Has Jazz”. In 1947, he played himself in the movie New Orleans opposite Billie Holiday, which chronicled the demise of the Storyville district and the ensuing exodus of musicians from New Orleans to Chicago. In the 1959 film, The Five Pennies (the story of the cornetist Red Nichols), Armstrong played himself as well as singing and playing several classic numbers. With Danny Kaye Armstrong performed a duet of “When the Saints Go Marching In” during which Kaye impersonated Armstrong. Armstrong also had a part in the film alongside James Stewart in The Glenn Miller Story in which Glenn (played by Stewart) jammed with Armstrong and a few other noted musicians of the time.
He was the first African American to host a nationally broadcast radio show in the 1930s. In 1969, Armstrong had a cameo role in the film version of Hello, Dolly! as the bandleader, Louis, to which he sang the title song with actress Barbra Streisand. His solo recording of “Hello, Dolly!” is one of his most recognizable performances.
He was heard on such radio programs as The Story of Swing (1937) and This Is Jazz (1947), and he also made countless television appearances, especially in the 1950s and 1960s, including appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Many of Armstrong’s recordings remain popular. More than four decades since his death, a larger number of his recordings from all periods of his career are more widely available than at any time during his lifetime. His songs are broadcast and listened to every day throughout the world, and are honored in various movies, TV series, commercials, and even anime and video games. “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” was included in the video game Fallout 2, accompanying the intro cinematic. It was also used in the 1993 film Sleepless in Seattle and the 2005 film Lord of War. “Melancholy Blues,” performed by Armstrong and his Hot Seven was included on the Voyager Golden Record sent into outer space to represent one of the greatest achievements of humanity. Most familiar to modern listeners is his ubiquitous rendition of “What a Wonderful World”. In 2008, Armstrong’s recording of Edith Piaf’s famous “La Vie En Rose” was used in a scene of the popular Disney/Pixar film WALL-E. The song was also used in parts, especially the opening trumpets, in the French film Jeux d’enfants (Love Me If You Dare.)
Argentine writer Julio Cortázar, a self-described Armstrong admirer, asserted that a 1952 Louis Armstrong concert at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris played a significant role in inspiring him to create the fictional creatures called Cronopios that are the subject of a number of Cortázar’s short stories. Cortázar once called Armstrong himself “Grandísimo Cronopio” (The Great Cronopio).
Armstrong appears as a minor fictionalized character in Harry Turtledove’s Southern Victory Series. When he and his band escape from a Nazi-like Confederacy, they enhance the insipid mainstream music of the North. A young Armstrong also appears as a minor fictionalized character in Patrick Neate’s 2001 novel Twelve Bar Blues, part of which is set in New Orleans, and which was a winner at that year’s Whitbread Book Awards.
There is a pivotal scene in Stardust Memories (1980) in which Woody Allen is overwhelmed by a recording of Armstrong’s “Stardust” and experiences a nostalgic epiphany. The combination of the music and the perfect moment is the catalyst for much of the film’s action, prompting the protagonist to fall in love with an ill-advised woman.
Terry Teachout wrote a one-man play about Armstrong called Satchmo at the Waldorf that was premiered in 2011 in Orlando, Fla., and has since been produced by Shakespeare & Company, Long Wharf Theater, and the Wilma Theater. The production ran off Broadway in 2014.