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An Overview of Louis Armstrong’s Life and Career

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Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, in the poorest area of New Orleans. Armstrong had a difficult childhood. His father, William Armstrong, was a factory worker and abandoned the family soon after Louis’s birth. His mother, who often turned to prostitution, frequently left him to live with his grandmother, Josephine, until the age of five, when he moved back with his mother. Armstrong had to leave school very early, in the fifth grade, to begin working and providing for the family. A Jewish family, the Karnofskys, gave the young Armstrong a job collecting junk and delivering coal. They also encouraged him to sing and often invited him into their home for meals.

On New Year’s Eve in 1912, Armstrong fired his stepfather’s gun in the air during a New Year’s Eve celebration and was arrested on the spot. After being arrested he was sent to the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys. At this establishment he opted to learn how to play the cornet and fell in love with music. The home released him two years later and Louis immediately began dreaming of a life making music. Although he still had to work odd jobs selling newspapers and hauling coal to support himself, Armstrong began earning a reputation as a talented blues player. One of the greatest cornet players in town, Joe “King” Oliver, began acting as a mentor to the young Armstrong, showing him some pointers on the horn and occasionally using him as a sub.

In the years to follow, Armstrong’s reputation as a musician continued to grow. In 1918, he replaced Oliver in Kid Ory’s band, at the time the most popular band in New Orleans. Not too long after, Armstrong was financially stable enough to stop working manual labor jobs and began concentrating full-time on his music career. His career at the time consisted of playing parties, dances, funeral marches and at small music bars. Armstrong was fine with staying in Louisiana, but in the summer of 1922, he got a call from King Oliver to come to Chicago and join his Jazz Band. Armstrong accepted, and he was soon taking Chicago by storm with his remarkably exceptional playing.

By 1932, Armstrong was appearing in movies and made his first international tour in England. While he was loved by numerous musicians, he was too wild for most critics, who gave him some of the most harsh reviews of his career. Armstrong didn’t let the criticism stop him though and he returned an even bigger star when he began a longer tour throughout Europe in 1933. In a strange turn of events, it was during this tour that Armstrong’s career fell apart. Years of blowing high notes had taken a toll on Armstrong’s lips, and, following a fight with his manager, Johnny Collins, he was left stranded in Europe by Collins. Armstrong then decided to take some time off soon after the incident, and spent much of 1934 relaxing in Europe and resting his lip.

When Armstrong returned to Chicago in 1935, he had no band and no recording contract. He still had problems with his lips and there were still small remains of his mob troubles. He turned to Joe Glaser for help, who had loved Armstrong from the time they met at the Sunset Cafe. Armstrong trusted Glaser with his and asked him to make his troubles disappear. Glaser did just that and within a few months, Armstrong had a new big band and was recording for Decca Records.

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An Overview of Louis Armstrong’s Life and Career. (2018, November 05). GradesFixer. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from
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