Known for his distinctly unique voice, his incomparable trumpet skills and his pioneering of Jazz music, Louis Daniel "Satchmo" Armstrong was one of the best jazz musicians and greatest entertainment personalities the world has ever known. Though he was a universal figure and celebrity, Armstrong was a New Orleans native who took New Orleans-style music from its raw origins and introduced it to the world as a refined art form.
Armstrong was born in New Orleans on August 4, 1901, though he claimed July 4 as his birthday. As a child, on a dare from a friend, he fired a pistol into the air on South Rampart Street and was sentenced to the Colored Waif's Home. There he got the job of playing the bugle when the flag was raised and lowered.
After serving his sentence, Louis began playing his horn in the noisy, smoke-filled musical clubs of what was then "Black Storyville," the section of New Orleans in the vicinity of South Liberty and Perdido streets (where New Orleans City Hall is now). Honing his skills by playing in early brass bands with Joe "King" Oliver, Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory and others, he replaced Oliver in Ory's band in 1919 when Oliver moved to Chicago.
Armstrong’s humble beginnings in New Orleans soon transformed into worldwide stardom. As the years passed, Satchmo's star appeal continued to grow. He had recording deals with major labels and movie deals with major Hollywood studios. He played for presidents, European royalty and for high-ranking officials on his beloved continent of Africa. “Pops,” as he was often called, toured internationally as a special envoy for the U.S. State Department. He represented his country and New Orleans with dignity, charm and class. Of the many accolades he received, being elected King of Zulu during Mardi Gras was the one that he often said meant the most. A photo of him as Zulu made the cover of TIME magazine in 1949.
Today, the City of New Orleans honors his legacy in many ways and remains the birthplace of jazz.
Though it is now home to a new court building and police headquarters, Louis Armstrong’s birthplace near Tulane and Broad avenues is now marked with a plaque dedicated to him at the site. Two statues in New Orleans have been erected in Armstrong's honor, one on the West Bank in Algiers adjacent to the Canal Street Ferry landing, and the other in Louis Armstrong Park - named in his honor.
In 2001, his centennial year, New Orleans International Airport was renamed Louis Armstrong International Airport after him and the Satchmo SummerFest began on his birthday weekend. A commemorative postage stamp of him was issued on Sept. 1, 1995, in Louis Armstrong Park.
During his long career, Satchmo had many classic hit records, including "Stardust," "When the Saints Go Marching In," "Dream a Little Dream of Me," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "You Rascal You," "Stompin' at the Savoy,” "Up a Lazy River," and “What a Wonderful World.”
In early 1964, at age 62, Louis achieved the distinction of being the oldest musician ever to have a No. 1 song on the Billboard charts. His version of the "Hello Dolly" was the first record to knock the Beatles out of the top position they held for 14 weeks with three separate songs.
Bing Crosby said his friend Satchmo was “the beginning and the end of music in America.” New Orleans is proud that it began right here.
Late in his career, when Armstrong recorded "What a Wonderful World," it was a fitting ode to the life he lived and the legacy he created. He died in New York City on July 6, 1971, a month short of his 70th birthday. He is buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York but his heart was here in New Orleans. He often signed letters "Red Beans and Ricely Yours."
The legacy of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong will endure as long as American music is played.
Music lovers and fans of Louis Armstrong will love POPS, a dramatic podcast that centers around Armstrong’s life and music career, starring Reno Wilson as Armstrong. Wilson is a particularly fitting choice, as he also played the music legend in the 2020 film “Bolden.” His life and legacy are explored over a seven-episode run. Tune in to the episodes below, or wherever you listen to your podcasts.