[Dixielandjazz] Louis Armstrong Obit

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jan 20 18:15:13 PST 2007

Let's never forget just how great Louis Armstrong was. Here is his obit from
the New York Times, 35 and a half years ago. It is impressive.

Note that at the time of his death, he still thought he was born in 1900.
There is also a quote calling him Daniel Louis Armstrong. That too is wrong.

Steve Barbone

July 7, 1971

Louis Armstrong, Jazz Trumpeter and Singer, Dies


Louis Armstrong, the celebrated jazz trumpeter and singer, died in his sleep
yesterday morning at his home in the Corona section of Queens. He had
observed his 71st birthday Sunday.

Death was attributed to a heart attack. Mr. Armstrong had been at home since
mid-June, when he was discharged from Beth Israel Medical Center after 10
weeks of treatment for heart, live and kidney disorders. He seemed in good
health during an interview June 23, in which he played his trumpet and
announced his intention to return to public performances.

President Nixon released this statement:

"Mrs. Nixon and I share the sorrow of millions of Americans at the death of
Louis Armstrong. One of the architects of an American art form, a free and
individual spirit, and an artist of worldwide fame, his great talents and
magnificent spirit added richness and pleasure to all our lives."

Tributes to Mr. Armstrong also came from a number of leading musicians,
including Duke Ellington, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Al Hirt, Earl (Father)
Hines, Tyree Glenn and Eddie Condon.

Mr. Ellington commented: "If anybody was Mr. Jazz it was Louis Armstrong. He
was the epitome of jazz and always will be. He is what I call an American
standard, an American original."

"He could play a trumpet like nobody else," Mr. Condon said, "then put it
down and sing a song like no one else could."

Mr. Hines, who frequently said he had taken his piano style from Mr.
Armstrong's trumpet style, remarked: "We were almost like brothers. I'm so
heartbroken over this. The world has lost a champion."

In Washington, the State Department, noting that Mr. Armstrong had toured
Africa, the Middle East and Latin America on its behalf, said:

"His memory will be enshrined in the archives of effective international
communications. The Department of State, for which he traveled on tours to
almost every corner of the globe, mourns the passing of this great

The entertainer's final appearance was last February, when he played a
two-week engagement at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.

Last month, noting that his legs were weak from his hospitalization, he
said, "I'm going back to work when my treaders get in as good shape as my

A master showman known to millions as Satchmo, Mr. Armstrong lived by a
simple credo. Putting it into words a couple of years ago, he said:

"I never tried to prove nothing, just always wanted to give a good show. My
life has been my music, it's always come first, but the music ain't worth
nothing if you can't lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for
that audience, 'cause what you're there for is to please the people."

Mr. Armstrong was first and most importantly a jazz trumpet player without
peer, a virtuoso soloist who was one of the most vivid and influential
forces in the development of American music.

But he was also known to delighted millions around the world for his
ebulliently sandpapery singing voice, his merry mangling of the English
language and his great wide grand-piano keyboard of a smile.

Jazz music, probably the only art form every wholly originated in America,
and Louis Armstrong grew up together in New Orleans. It was in a seamy slum
there that Mr. Armstrong learned to love and play jazz in the company of
gamblers, pimps and prostitutes.

But in time he was to play his trumpet and sing in command performances
before royalty and, through his numerous worldwide tours, to become known
unofficially as "America's ambassador of goodwill."


Jazz experts, even the purists who criticized Mr. Armstrong for his mugging
and showmanship, more often than not agreed that it was he, more than any
other individual, who took the raw, gutsy Negro folk music of the New
Orleans funeral parades and honky-tonks and built it into a unique art form.

Over the years, his life and his artistry changed radically. He left New
Orleans for Chicago in the early nineteen-twenties, when he was still
playing cornet, and before 1930 made some of his most memorable
recordings--with his Hot Five or Hot Seven groups.

Mr. Armstrong won his initial fame playing an endless grind of one-night
stands. Under constant pressure to put on a show that made customers tap
their feet and cry for more, he did not hesitate to exploit a remarkable
flair for showmanship. His mugging, his wisecracking and most of all his
willingness to constantly repeat programs that had gone over well in the
past won him the cheers of his audiences, along with the disapproving clucks
of some of his fellow musicians and jazz specialists.

The criticism that he no longer improvised enough, innovated enough,
mattered little to Mr. Armstrong. He dismissed the more "progressive" jazz
approved of by some leading critics as "jujitsu music."

He did not mind being called "commercial" because he followed popular music
trends, and he deliberately introduced into his repertory crowd-pleasers
such as "Mack the Knife" and "Hello, Dolly!," which put his recordings on
the bestseller charts when he was in his 60's.


As his ability to play his horn exceptionally well waned with the years, Mr.
Armstrong supplanted his trumpet solos with his singing voice. An almost
phenomenal instrument in its own right, it has been compared to iron filings
and to "a piece of sandpaper calling to its mate."

Just watching an Armstrong performance could be an exhilarating experience.
The man radiated a jollity that was infectious. Onstage he would bend back
his stocky frame, point his trumpet to the heavens and joyfully blast out
high C's. When he sang he fairly bubbled with pleasure. And as he swabbed
away at the perspiration stirred up by his performing exertions, Satchmo
grinned his famous toothy smile so incandescently that it seemed to light up
the auditorium. 

"I never did want to be no big star," Mr. Armstrong said in 1969, in an
interview for this article. "It's been hard goddam work, man. Feel like I
spent 20,000 years on planes and railroads, like I blowed my chops off.
Sure, Pops, I like the ovation, but when I'm low, beat down, wonder if maybe
I hadn't of been better off staying home in New Orleans."

Mr. Armstrong's early years, spent in New Orleans, were marked by extreme
poverty and squalor, but he emerged able to recall them without self-pity
and even with good humor.

"I was a Southern Doodle Dandy, born on the Fourth of July, 1900," said
Daniel Louis Armstrong. "My mother Mary Ann--we called her Mayann--was
living in a two-room shack in James Alley, in the Back O'Town colored
section of New Orleans. It was in a tough block, all them hustlers and their
pimps and gamblers with their knives, between Gravier and Perdido Streets.

Mr. Armstrong's father, Willie Armstrong, who stoked furnaces in a
turpentine factory, left Mrs. Armstrong when the boy was an infant. Leaving
the child with his paternal grandmother, Mrs. Armstrong went to live in the
Perdido Liberty Street area, which was lined with prostitutes' cribs.

"Whether my mother did any hustling I can't say," Mr. Armstrong said. "If
she did, she kept it out of my sight."

However, Louis, who rejoined his mother when he was 6 years old, recalled
that for many years afterward there was always a "stepfather" on the
premises and that before his mother "got religion and gave up men" around
1915, "I couldn't keep track of the stepdaddies, there must have been a
dozen or so, 'cause all I had to do was turn my back and a new pappy would
appear. Some of them, he added, "liked to beat on little Louis."

However, Mr. Armstrong was always intensely fond of his mother, and he cared
for her until her death in the early nineteen-forties.

Dippermouth, as he was called as a child, and his friends often sang for
pennies on the streets. To help support his mother and a sister, Barbara,
Louis delivered coal to prostitutes' cribs and sold food plucked from hotel
garbage cans. 

The night of Dec. 31, 1913, Louis celebrated the New Year by running out on
the street and firing a .38-caliber pistol that belonged to one of his
"stepfathers." He was arrested and sent to the Colored Waifs Home for Boys."

"Pops, it sure was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," Mr.
Armstrong said. "Me and music got married at the home."


Peter Davis, an instructor at the home, taught Louis to play the bugle and
the cornet. Soon the boy became a member of the home's brass band, which
played at socials, picnics and funerals for a small fee. Louis was in the
fifth grade when he was released from the home after spending 18 months
there. He had no other formal education.

The youth worked as a junkman and sold coal, while grabbing every chance he
could to play cornet in honky-tonk bands. The great jazz cornetist Joe
(King) Oliver befriended him, gave him a cornet and tutored him.

"I was foolin' around with some tough ones," Mr. Armstrong recalled in 1969.
"Get paid a little money, and a beeline for one of them gambling houses. Two
hours, man, and I was a broke cat, broker than the Ten Commandments. Needed
money so bad I even tried pimping, but my first client got jealous of me and
we got to fussing about it and she stabbed me in the shoulder. Them was wild

In 1918, Mr. Armstrong married a 21-year-old prostitute named Daisy Parker.
Since Daisy "wouldn't give up her line of work," Mr. Armstrong said, the
marriage was both stormy and short-lived.

The same year he was married, Mr. Armstrong joined the Kid Ory band,
replacing King Oliver, who had moved to Chicago. In the next three years he
marched with Papa Celestin's brass band and worked on the riverboat Sidney
with Fate Marable's band. Dave Jones, a mellophone player with the Marable
band, gave him his first lessons in reading music.

By then Mr. Armstrong's fame was spreading among New Orleans musicians, many
of whom were moving to Chicago. In 1922 King Oliver sent for his protégé.
Mr. Armstrong became second cornetist in Mr. Oliver's by then famous Creole
Jazz Band. The two-cornet team had one of the most formidably brilliant
attacks ever heard in a jazz group. Mr. Armstrong's first recordings were
made with the Oliver band in 1923.

The pianist in the band was Lilian Hardin, whom Mr. Armstrong married in
1924. Miss Hardin had had training as a classical musician, and she gave him
some formal musical education.

Mrs. Armstrong, convinced that as long as her husband stayed in the Oliver
band he would remain in the shadow of his popular mentor, persuaded him to
leave the band in 1924 to play first cornet at the Dreamland Cafe. The same
year he joined Fletcher Henderson's orchestra at the Roseland Ballroom in
New York. 

For the first time, Mr. Armstrong found himself in the company of musicians
of an entirely different stripe from those he had known in New Orleans and
Chicago who, like himself, had fought their way up out of the back alleys
and were largely unschooled in music. From these men, many of whom had
conservatory educations, he learned considerable musical discipline.

Moving back to Chicago in 1925, Mr. Armstrong again played at the Dreamland
Cafe, where his wife, Lil, had her own band, and with Erskine Tate's
"symphonic jazz" orchestra at the Vendome Theater. It was at that point that
he gave up the cornet for the trumpet.

"I was hired to play them hot choruses when the curtain went up," Mr.
Armstrong recalled. "They put a spotlight on me. Used to hit 40 or 50 high
C's--go wild, screamin' on my horn. I was crazy, Pops, plain nuts."


During his second Chicago period, Mr. Armstrong doubled in Carroll
Dickerson's Sunset Cabaret orchestra, with billing as the "World's Greatest
Trumpeter." The proprietor of the Sunset was Joe Glaser, who became Mr.
Armstrong's personal manager and acted in that capacity for the rest of his
life. Mr. Glaser died on June 6, 1969.

In that Chicago period, Mr. Armstrong began to make records under his own
name, the first being "My Heart," recorded Nov. 12, 1925. Louis Armstrong's
Hot Five (and later Hot Seven) recorded, over a three-year span, a series of
jazz classics, with Earl (Fatha) Hines on the piano. These records earned
Mr. Armstrong a worldwide reputation, and by 1929, when he returned to New
York, he had become an idol in the jazz world.

While playing at Connie's Inn in Harlem, Mr. Armstrong also appeared on
Broadway in the all- Negro review "Hot Chocolates," in which he introduced
Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin,'" his first popular-song hit. (He later
appeared as Bottom in "Swingin' the Dream," a short-lived travesty on "A
Midsummer Night's Dream." Over the years he appeared in many movies,
including "Pennies From Heaven," "A Song is Born," "The Glenn Miller Story"
and "High Society.")

For several years, Mr. Armstrong "fronted" big bands assembled for him by
others. By 1932, the year he was divorced from Lil Hardin Armstrong, he had
become so popular in Europe, via recordings, that he finally agreed to tour
the Continent. 

It was while he was starring at the London Palladium that Mr. Armstrong
acquired the nickname Satchmo. A London music magazine editor inadvertently
invented the name by garbling an earlier nickname, Satchelmouth.


While he was in London, Mr. Armstrong demonstrated memorably that he had
little use for the niceties of diplomatic protocol.

During a command performance for King George V, Mr. Armstrong ignored the
rule that performers are not supposed to refer to members of the Royal
Family while playing before them and announced on the brink of a hot trumpet
break, "This one's for you, Rex."

(Many years later, in 1956, Satchmo played before King George's
granddaughter, Princess Margaret. "We're really gonna lay this one on for
the Princess," he grinned and launched into "Mahogany Hall Stomp," a sort of
jazz elegy to a New Orleans bordello. The Princess loved it.)

One of Mr. Armstrong's pre-World War II European tours lasted 18 months.
Over the years his tours took him to the Middle East and the Far East, to
Africa and to South America. In Accra, Ghana, 100,000 natives went into a
frenzied demonstration when he started to blow his horn, and in
Léopoldville, tribesmen painted themselves ochre and violet and carried him
into the city stadium on a canvas throne.

His 1960 African tour was denounced by the Moscow radio as a "capitalist
distraction," which made Mr. Armstrong laugh.

"I feel at home in Africa," he said during the tour. "I'm African-descended
down to the bone, and I dig the friendly ways these people go about things.
I got quite a bit of African blood in me from my grandmammy on my mammy's
side and from my grandpappy on my pappy's side."


Before the war, Mr. Armstrong worked with several big bands, including the
Guy Lombardo orchestra, concentrating on New Orleans standards such as
"Muskrat Ramble" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In" and on novelties such
as "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You." He did duets with Ella
Fitzgerald and he accompanied Bessie Smith.

After 1947 he usually performed as leader of a sextet, working with such
musicians as Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Joe Bushkin and Cozy Cole. He was a
favorite at all the jazz festivals, in this country and abroad.

Mr. Armstrong lost track of the number of recordings he made, but it has
been estimated there were as many as 1,500. Dozens have become collectors'

The jolly Mr. Armstrong was quite inured to his fame as a jazz immortal. Not
too many years ago, he was interviewed backstage by a disk jockey who began
with the announcement, "And now we bring you a man who came all the way from
New Orleans, the Crescent City, to become a Living American Legend." The
Living American Legend, who was changing his clothes, dropped his trousers
and began with the observation, "Tee hee!"

"Tee hee" was part of a uniquely Armstrong vocabulary, which included
Satchmo-coined words such as "commercified" and "humanitarily." In his
speech he arbitrarily inserted hyphens in the middle of words ("ar-tis-try"
and "en-ta-TAIN-uh") and, unable to remember names too well, peppered his
conversations with friends and interviewers with salutations such as "Daddy"
and "Pops." 

Despite the hard life he led--traveling most of the time, sleeping too
little, living out of suitcases, eating and drinking too much or not
enough--Mr. Armstrong, even into his 60's, was still going strong. His chest
was broad and powerful, and his 5-foot-8-inch frame carried a weight that
varied between 170 and 230 pounds.

He was, however, keenly aware of his health. "I'm one of them
hy-po-CHON-dree-acs," he would say with a delighted laugh. He was afraid of
germs and always carried his trumpet mouthpiece in a carefully folded
handkerchief in his back pocket. He liked to talk at length about his
physic, a herbal mixture called Swiss Kriss, while at the same time he
recounted how unwisely he sometimes ate, especially when his favorite food,
New Orleans-style red beans and rice, was set before him.

Although in latter years he suffered from a kidney ailment, Mr. Armstrong's
greatest worry was chronic leukoplakia of the lips, what amounted to a tough
corn that resulted from blowing his horn. He used a special, imported salve
to soothe his lips.

"If you don't look out for your chops and pipes," he said, "you can't blow
the horn and sing. Anything that'll get in my way doin' that, out it goes.
That trumpet comes first, before everything, even my wife. Got to be that
way. I love Lucille, man, but she understands about me and my music."

He was referring to the former Lucille Wilson, whom he married in 1942.

He loved all forms of music. When asked what he thought of the
country-and-Western and folk music so favored by the young, he replied,
"Pops, music is music. All music is folk music. I ain't never heard no horse
sing a song." 

Some Negro militants criticized Mr. Armstrong for his earthy speech and his
habit of rolling his eyes and flashing his toothy grin while performing.
They said he was using stereotyped characteristics of the happy-go-lucky
Negro and playing the Uncle Tom. Mr. Armstrong ignored the charges.


Nevertheless, Mr. Armstrong, on learning in 1965 that the police in Selma,
Ala., had taken violent action against freedom-marching Negroes in that
city, told an interviewer:

"They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched. Maybe I'm not in the
front line, but I support them with my donations. My life is music. They
would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn't be
able to blow my horn."

For many years, Mr. Armstrong refused to perform in New Orleans, his
hometown, because of segregation there. He did not return until 1965, after
passage of the Civil Rights Act. On that occasion he triumphantly played
with an integrated band in the city's Jazz Museum.

Reflecting on his more than 50 years as a musician, Mr. Armstrong said,
"There ain't going to be no more cats in this music game that long."

There was no doubt that he was the most durable of the great jazzmen, nor
that millions of people held him in great affection. His fellow musicians,
many of whom were influenced by his artistry, looked upon him with awe.

Miles Davis, a contemporary jazz star, has asserted that "you can't play
anything on a horn that Louis hasn't played." Teddy Wilson, who played piano
with Mr. Armstrong in 1933, has called him "the greatest jazz musician
that's ever been." 

And Leonard Feather, the eminent jazz critic and author of "The Encyclopedia
of Jazz," wrote of Mr. Armstrong:

"It is difficult. . .to see in correct perspective Armstrong's contribution
as the first vital jazz soloist to attain worldwide influence as trumpeter,
singer, entertainer, dynamic show business personality and strong force in
stimulating interest in jazz.

"His style, melodically and harmonically simple by the standards of later
jazz trends, achieved in his early records an unprecedented warmth and
beauty. His singing, lacking most of the traditional vocal qualities
accepted outside the jazz world, had a rhythmic intensity and guttural charm
that induced literally thousands of other vocalists to imitate him, just as
countless trumpeters through the years reflected the impact of his style.

"By 1960, Armstrong, set in his ways, improvised comparatively little; but
he retained vocally and instrumentally many of the qualities that had
established him, even though entertainment values, by his own admission,
meant more to him than the reaction of a minority of musicians and

As for Mr. Armstrong, it was pleasing his listeners that really mattered.

"There's three generations Satchmo has witnessed," he said, "the old cats,
their children and their children's children, and they still all walk up and
say, 'Ol' Satch, how do you do!' I love my audience and they love me and we
just have one good time whenever I get up on the stage. It's such a lovely

Mr. Armstrong is survived by his widow, the former Lucille Wilson, and by an
adopted son, Clarence Hatfield of New York. He also leaves a sister, Mrs.
Beatrice Collins of new Orleans and two half-brothers, Henry and William
Armstrong, both of New Orleans. The Armstrongs' home in Corona was at 34-56
107th Street. 

A funeral service will be held Friday at 1 P.M. at the Corona Congregational
Church, 34th Avenue and 103d Street. Burial will be in the Flushing

The honorary pallbearers will include Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay,
Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie,
Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl
Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and
Bobby Hackett. 

Mrs. Armstrong requested that flowers and cards be omitted and said those
wishing to do so could send contributions in her husband's memory to the
Kidney Research Foundation and to the Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, which
promotes research on a disease that mainly afflicts blacks. 

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list