Rising to prominence in the 1920s, Louis Armstrong will go down as one of the most legendary jazz musicians in music history. A virtuoso on the trumpet, Armstrong shifted the foundation of jazz from collective improvisation to solo performers. Although Armstrong passed away nearly four decades ago, to this day, his influence extends well beyond jazz, from his magnetic stage presence and charismatic trumpet playing to his unique voice and vocal styling.
Like many great artists, Louis Armstrong's early life was full of difficulties that would later shape his perspective and career. Abandoned by his father shortly after his birth, Armstrong was raised by his mother. As a young boy, he showed an interest in music which would cause him to drop out of school at age 11 to form a jazz group. However, this did not last for long, as he was sent to reform school after being charged with firing a weapon in a New Year's celebration. It was during his time at the reform school that Armstrong studied music and learned to play the cornet and bugle in the school band. Upon his release in 1914, Louis Armstrong sought to advance his music career and fell under the wing of cornetist Joe "King" Oliver, who became a mentoring father figure for Armstrong.
In 1922, Louis Armstrong moved to Chicago to join Oliver's band but would soon be recruited to play with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, one of the biggest African American bands of the day. It was in this transition that Armstrong switched from the cornet to the trumpet. He soon gained enough individual notoriety to front his own group, Louis Armstrong & His Stompers. By the late '20s, Armstrong made it on the charts with his first vocal recording "Big Butter and Egg Man" and eventually cracked the Top 10 with "Hotter Than That."
During the early '30s, Louis Armstrong's career went to a higher gear. He moved from his Okeh label to the lager and pop-based Columbia records, made his film debut, toured Europe, while his archival recordings kept his career back home going, scoring multiple hits including a double-sided Top 10 hit with "I'm in the Mood for Love"/"You Are My Lucky Star." After WWII, Armstrong split up his big band and formed a smaller group he labeled the All Stars.
Although Armstrong suffered a heart attack in 1959, he continued to tour and record, and in 1964, he enjoyed an unexpected hit with the title song from the musical "Hello, Dolly!", which also earned him a Grammy for best vocal performance. His version of "What a Wonderful World" also hit number one in the UK and would gain a stateside resurgence in the '80s as a soundtrack and commercial staple. As his health began to worsen, Armstrong performed and worked less frequently, and sadly, passed away from heart complications in 1971. Armstrong is not only remembered for the mark of influence he left on the jazz world, but also for his incredible personality, voice, and character. He was a rare kind of musician, capable of transcending classifications while earning both commercial popularity and critical appreciation and reverence.