For the last three years of his life he was in and out of the hospital, but he continued recording and performing until July 6, 1971 when he died in his sleep at home in Queens, New York. With Louis Armstrong's death, jazz had lost its greatest master.
Throughout his career, Armstrong spread the language of jazz around the world, serving as an international ambassador of swing. His profound impact on the music of the 20th century continues into the 21st century.
Louis' ability to generate 'top 40' hits in every generation is one of the marvels of his career: "Blueberry Hill" (with Gordon Jenkins) in 1949, "Mack The Knife" (from Brecht-Weill's Threepenny Opera) in 1956, and the original "Hello, Dolly!" which unseated the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love" from #1 in May 1964 - to name a few. In 1988, 17 years after his death, Armstrong's "What AWonderful World" was bigger than ever as a top 40 single from Robin Williams' Good Morning, Vietnam movie soundtrack.
Armstrong moved to Los Angeles in 1930 where he fronted a band called Louis Armstrong and his Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra. In 1931 he returned to Chicago and assembled his own band for touring purposes. In June of that year he returned to New Orleans for the first time since he left in 1922 to join King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong was greeted as a hero, but racism marred his return when a White radio announcer refused to mention Armstrong on the air and a free concert that Louis was going to give to the cities' African-American population was cancelled at the last minute.
In 1928 he started recording with drummer Zutty Singleton and pianist Earl Hines, the latter a musician whose skill matched Armstrong's. Many of the resulting records are masterpieces of detailed construction and adventurous rhythms. During these years Armstrong was working with big bands in Chicago clubs and theaters. By 1929 Armstrong was in New York City leading a nightclub band. Appearing in the theatrical revue Hot Chocolates, he sang "Fats" Waller's (1904–1943) "Ain't Misbehavin'," Armstrong's first popular song hit. From this period Armstrong performed mainly popular song material, which presented a new challenge. Some notable performances resulted. His trumpet playing reached a peak around 1933. His style then became simpler, replacing the experimentation of his earlier years with a more mature approach that used every note to its greatest advantage. He rerecorded some of his earlier songs with great results.
During the mid 1920’s Armstrong began recording the sessions that would become legendary with his “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” groups. His first record under his own name was “My Heart” cut November 12th 1925. For better than three years Armstrong remained in Chicago churning out a number of famous recordings that earned him worldwide acclaim. Many were with a pianist he had worked with in the Dickerson band named Earl “Fatha” Hines.
“Satchmo” (as he loved to be called) didn’t invent jazz, but it might have sounded unimaginably different without him. Armstrong learned to play cornet in a New Orleans home for “colored waifs.” Having mastered the ensemble style of early jazz, he reshaped it in his own expansive image, shifting the emphasis from group improvisation to the virtuoso solo. No less significant were his genial, gravel-voiced vocals, which laid the foundation for all subsequent pop singing. Bing Crosby called him “the beginning and end of music in America.”
At the age of 11, after firing a gun in the air during a New Year's Eve celebration, Armstrong was deemed a juvenile delinquent and sent to the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs. There he received musical instruction on the cornet and fell in love with music. In 1914, the home released him, and for several years he made a pittance selling papers, hauling coal to the city's famed red-light district, and singing and dancing for coins.
When Louis was a toddler, his mother moved to a house closer to downtown New Orleans, a squalid neighborhood he wrote about later in life, where women frequently earned money through prostitution in the city's mostly legal Storyville "red light" district. The neighborhood was so tough it was called "the battlefield." Everyone lived in ramshackle houses and used communal outhouses located in one of the yards. For the first five years of his life, Louis's mother left him in the care of his grandmother.
Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901, the natural son of William Armstrong (known as Willie), who spent most of his adult life working in a turpentine factory, and Mary Ann Albert (known as Mayann, though her son spelled it different ways over the years), a fifteen-year-old country girl who came to New Orleans to work as a household servant.