Almanac: Louis Armstrong

A picture taken in the 1960s shows jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, whose melodic inventiveness established the central role of the improvising soloist in jazz.
STF/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) And now a musical page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: August 4th, 1901, 112 years ago today . . . the day the great jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong was born in New Orleans.

Though he claimed he was born on the Fourth of July in 1900, Armstrong's life story needed no such patriotic embellishment.

He told part of it in 1955 to CBS' Edward R. Murrow, in a Paris jazz club, at the end of a very long night:

Murrow: "Louis, it's six o'clock in the morning, this basement here in Paris is empty. Aren't you tired?"
Armstrong: "Well, daddy, I'm just a little beat from my youth."

Armstrong spent that youth in a tough part of town called "The Battlefield" . . . part of that time in a delinquents' home, where he joined the band.

He got his first big break from top New Orleans band leader and horn player Joe "King" Oliver:

Armstrong: "He's my idol, and he did more for the young musicians in my area than anyone that I know of. He would, we'd be walking up the street and run into Joe Oliver, if there was ever a piece of music that was bugging us, you dig?"
Murrow: "Yeah, I dig."

Armstrong traveled with Oliver to Chicago, where he started to develop a style and a reputation all his own.

He broke into the movies, with a role in the 1936 film, "Pennies From Heaven," followed by many others, including a duet with Bing Crosby in the 1956 film, "High Society."

By then, Armstrong was touring the world, earning him the nickname "Ambassador Satch."

And he was breaking traditional barriers back home as well, performing in 1956 with the New York Philharmonic, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein.

"When we play the St. Louis blues, we're only doing a blown-up imitation of what he does," Bernstein said. "And what he does is real, and true, and honest, and simple, and even noble."

Armstrong won over new audiences in 1964 with his recording of "Hello, Dolly," which even knocked the Beatles off the top of the charts . . . a song he reprised in the 1969 film, opposite Barbra Streisand.

Louis Armstrong died in 1971 at his modest home in Queens New York.

Today, that home is a museum and a National Historic Landmark . . . though his real landmark is all that music he left behind.


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