Celebrating creative black trailblazers for #BHM; meet…
Name: Louis Armstrong
Born: August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971, (New Orleans, Louisiana)
Creative Discipline: Musician and Actor
Known for: Nicknamed Satchmo or Pops, was an American jazz trumpeter and singer
Louis Armstrong was born into a very poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana, the grandson of slaves. He spent his youth in poverty, in a rough neighbourhood of Uptown New Orleans, known as “Back of the Town”, as his father, William Armstrong (1881–1922), abandoned the family when Louis was an infant and took up with another woman.
Armstrong hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times but instead drew inspiration from it, “Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine - I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans. . . . It has given me something to live for.
Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" cornet and trumpet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz. With his instantly recognizable deep and distinctive 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 greatly 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.
His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society that were highly restricted for a black man.
Armstrong was largely accepted into white society, both on stage and off, a privilege reserved for very few African-American public figures, and usually those of either exceptional talent and fair skin-tone. As his fame grew, so did his access to the finer things in life usually denied to a black man, even a famous one. His popularity was such that he dined in the best restaurants and stayed in hotels usually exclusively for whites.
It was a power and privilege that he enjoyed, although he was very careful not to flaunt it with fellow performers of color, and privately, he shared what access that he could with friends and fellow musicians.
That still did not prevent members of the African-American community, particularly in the late 1950s to the early 1970s, from criticising him. He faced a lot of criticism for not taking a strong enough stand in the civil rights movement.
The few exceptions made it more effective when he did speak out. Armstrong's criticism of President Eisenhower, calling him "two-faced" and "gutless" because of his inaction during the conflict over school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 made national news.
As a protest, Armstrong canceled a planned tour of the Soviet Union on behalf of the State Department saying "The way they're treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell" and that he could not represent his government abroad when it was in conflict with its own people. Six days after Armstrong's comments, Eisenhower ordered Federal troops to Little Rock to escort students into the school.
The FBI kept a file on Armstrong, for his outspokenness about integration.
Article by Lucy G / 8th October 2012
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