Louis Armstrong in Amsterdam, 1965 (National Archives of the Netherlands)
The voice is one of the most unmistakable of the 20th century: a gravelly growl suffused with warmth. Say the name Louis Armstrong and you’re instantly able to conjure its sound—and his trumpet playing—in “What a Wonderful World” or “Hello, Dolly!” Armstrong became a giant of both jazz and popular music, even knocking the Beatles off top position on the pop-music charts with his version of “Hello, Dolly!”. Curator and author John Edward Hasse provides a film and video portrait of the beloved entertainer who transformed American music.
Born in 1901 in New Orleans, Armstrong grew up in dire poverty. In his 20s, he revolutionized jazz, with generations of players and singers following his lead on how to swing, scat, and solo. With five decades of recordings, more than 30 film appearances, and an average of nearly 300 concerts annually at his peak, Armstrong was a commanding presence in the nation’s musical life.
His frequent tours to all parts of the world earned him the nickname “Ambassador Satch.” Fellow musician Tony Bennett captured the importance of his legacy when he noted, “The bottom line [for] any country is ‘What did we contribute to the world?’…We contributed Louis Armstrong.”
Hasse is curator emeritus of American music at the American History Museum and founder of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra and Jazz Appreciation Month.