This Day in Music, August 4: What A Wonderful World

By , Contributor

American singer, bandleader, and trumpeter player Louis Armstrong was born on this day in 1901.

With his instantly recognizable deep and distinctive gravelly voice, Armstrong had many hits including the 1964 US No.1 “Hello Dolly!”, the 1968 UK No.1 “What A Wonderful World” as well as  “When The Saints Go Marching In”, “Ain't Misbehavin”, and the gorgeous “We Have All the Time in the World.”

But as well as these timeless classics, Armstrong was undoubtedly one of the greatest jazz musicians and one of the most important musicians of the 20th century. He set a new standard that surpassed everything that came before and provided a vital reference point for the music that came after.

Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet playing, Armstrong's influence extends well beyond jazz. He was also greatly skilled at scat singing, vocalizing using sounds and syllables instead of actual lyrics.

Armstrong was born into a very poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana, the grandson of slaves. He spent his youth in poverty, in the rough neighborhood of uptown New Orleans. He left school aged 11, and would hang out in the red light district, and listen to the bands playing in the brothels and dance halls. He later joined a quartet of boys that sang in the streets for money.

Armstrong developed his cornet playing in a band at the New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs, where he had been sent multiple times for general delinquency. Often in trouble, he was sent to the home after being caught firing his stepfather's pistol into the air at a New Year's Eve celebration party.

In the '20s, he stunned his jazz peers with a unique instrumental originality and the '30s saw him rise to the top of the pop music echelon, as his peerless personality swept up admiring listeners of all colors. The '40s brought both a sinking of fortunes, with a ban on recording during the war.

After spending years on the road and often playing over 300 gigs a year, Armstrong settled permanently in Queens, New York in 1943 where he formed Louis Armstrong and his All Stars. During this period, Armstrong made many recordings and appeared in over 30 films. He was the first jazz musician to appear on the cover of Time magazine in the February 1949 edition.

In 1964, he recorded his biggest-selling record, "Hello, Dolly!" The song went to #1 on the pop chart, making Armstrong at 63 the oldest person to ever accomplish that feat. In the process, Armstrong dislodged The Beatles from the #1 position they had occupied for 14 consecutive weeks with three different songs.

Constantly struggling with his weight, he would use laxatives as a means of controlling the problem, resulting in him appearing in humorous advertisements for laxative product Swiss Kriss; the ads bore a picture of him sitting on a toilet, as viewed through a keyhole, with the slogan "Satch says, 'Leave it all behind ya!" He even introduced the British royal family to the joys of Swiss Kriss. It was reported that The Queen became a fan!

Armstrong died of a heart attack in his sleep on July 6, 1971, a month before his 70th birthday.

During his lifetime, Louis achieved so much. He recorded records with the Mills Brothers, Louis Jordan, Tommy Dorsey, and Ella Fitzgerald. He became the first black artist to host a sponsored, national radio broadcast. He would speak out against racial discrimination and publicly condemned the violence that would sometimes surround it.

In August, 2000 New Orleans International Airport was re-named Louis Armstrong Airport in honour of the New Orleans-born trumpet player, singer, and bandleader.

“What a Wonderful World” was one of the last recordings he made; with his talent, Mr Armstrong made it a better world for all of us.

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A former musician, Neil was in the 80's group The Cheaters who were once signed to EMI's Parlophone label, and released three albums. He was also a radio presenter and is still a regular music pundit on various BBC stations. Neil is the founder of the award winning web site This Day in Music which is…

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