Great Americans: Louis Armstrong


What does it mean to be a “great American”? A “great American” is a talented American citizen who has contributed to the development of American society, promoting the key ideas of democracy thorough personal and professional independence and freedom. Louis Armstrong is considered to be a “great American” because he fits that criteria. He was a talented jazz musician who managed to impress the nation by his unique style of music, which reflected the values of the African American culture and promoted freedom and independence through music composition. He contributed not only to the development of jazz, but also Armstrong contributed to the development of the cultural history of the United States. He placed emphasis on the power of music. Although Armstrong was born in a poor family, he used his unique talent and personality traits to become a masterful trumpet player, singer and famous entertainer of the nation. He played an important role in the development of jazz, one of the new music styles of the early twentieth century. According to Patricia Daniels, “His inventiveness and improvisational techniques, along with his energetic, dazzling style have influenced generations of musicians” (1). Hence, Louis Armstrong is considered to be a “great American”because he helped to create a new style of music which reflected the identity of African Americans and helped to unite people of different races using the power of music.

Louis Armstrong – a great American

2.1 Louis Armstrong’s autobiography

Louis Armstrong was born on July 4, 1900, as mentioned in many academic resources. However, a well-known jazz historian Tad Jones found that Armstrong’s true date of birth was August 4, 1901 (Swenson 267). He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was a factory worker, while his mother was a housewife. However, Armstrong’s father abandoned his family when Louis was a baby. Louis’s mother had to earn money herself in order to feed her children.  When Louis was a small boy he had to work at odd jobs in order to assist his family.  He sang songs in the boys’ quartet. According to researchers, “he did not read books because he was illiterate, and he did not go to theatres, concert halls and art galleries because he was barred from them” (Collier 343).  Music was the only art form he had access to. He loved to imitate players he admired in order to demonstrate his love for jazz music. A Jewish family of the Karnofskys paid  Armstrong for performing certain tasks, like collecting junk and delivering coal. They supported Louis’s talent of a singer and invited him into their home to sing songs.

In 1913, he was accused of juvenile delinquency and placed at the Colored Waifs Home, where he was taught to play cornet. He loved music and enjoyed playing cornet in the local band. When he was a teenager, he was fond of listening to the pioneer jazz artists, including King Oliver, a leading cornetist of the city of New Orleans. Armstrong had a great talent of developing music skills to impress the audience. He played not only in jazz bands, but also in marching bands. In 1918, he had enough experience to play cornet in Kid Ory band. In 1920s, he played cornet in Mississippi riverboat dance bands (Collier 46).

In 1922, Armstrong was sent to play second cornet in King Oliver’s band, which was known as one of the best jazz bands in the state. In 1924, Armstrong married Lil Hardin, who was a pianist. The popularity of Armstrong was caused by his ingenious ensemble lead, unique second cornet lines, his cornet duet passages which were called “breaks”, and his impressive solos. Armstrong’s  first solos are  “Chimes Blues” and “Tears,” which were composed by Louis Armstrong and his wife. In 1930, he moved to Los Angeles in order to continue his professional career at the New Cotton Club. The club was visited by rich people and celebrities. However, he did not stay in this city for a long time. In 1931, he moved to Chicago (Storb 146).

In addition, Armstrong was known not only as a musician and singer, but also as a good-humoured entertainer. He gave concerts in many countries, including Britain, France, Denmark and others. His nicknames were Satchmo, Satch, or Pops. He became popular as an actor as well. He played a role of a musician in a Dixieland band in the movie New Orleans (1947). In the movie Pennies from Heaven he played the role of a band leader. The most popular recordings are “Mack the Knife” (1955), “Hello, Dolly!” (1964), “What a Beautiful World” (1967) and others. Because of poor health, Armstrong could not continue his trumpet playing, but he performed as a singer. He died on July 6, 1971,  in New York City.

2.2 Louis Armstrong’s contributions to the nation 

Louis Armstrong contributed to the nation as a talented musician, singer, artist and entertainer.

He is known as “a master of modernism and creator of his own song style” (Brothers 1). He had an enormous impact of the music of the 20-th century. His numerous concerts he gave in Britain and other countries contributed to the position of jazz musicians at the global arena.  Jazz was a new style of music; therefore, many people leaned to understand jazz, using Armstrong’s compositions. Although Armstrong did not create jazz, he managed to support the development of this music style, making it more and more influential.

In addition, Armstrong used his sense of humour to criticize segregation and the Ku Klux Klan regime. He managed to unite people of different races as his talent to demonstrate the power of music was highly valued both by black and white people. Many of his songs contain the truth about the life of working people in the United States, about love and freedom of choice. He tried to express his own views on the issues related to racial equality, placing emphasis on positive aspects and humour in resolving serious social problems. His songs “What a Wonderful World” and “Star Dust” inspire people to love their life and environment.

Moreover, Armstrong had many followers who highly values the significance of his musical techniques in the development of jazz. According to researchers, Armstrong’s techniques like easing the weight of the breath, singing on consonants and others helped many musicians to achieve success in their performance (Brithers 1). Armstrong is called an architect of the American art form due to his free and individual style of music. He became a model for young musicians, including Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Fletcher Henderson, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmie Rodgers and others.


Thus, it is necessary to conclude that Louis Armstrong is really a “great American” because his contributions to the nation are multiple. He helped to develop jazz music style, attracted attention of many people through his unique techniques, promoted freedom and independence in music and encouraged people to love the world they live in. Armstrong was widely known for his improvisation, stiff rhythms combined with the percussive and the soaring. The audience enjoyed his virtuosity, strength and passion, which reflected his own identity and the identity of the nation.  Hence, Armstrong’s contributions to the nation allow calling him a “great American”. 

Works Cited

Brothers, Thomas D. Louis Armstrong, Master of Modernism. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. Print.

Collier, James L. Louis Armstrong: An American Genius. Oxford University Press, 1985. Print.

Daniels, Patricia. Louis Armstrong – a Masterful Trumpet Player. Web. n.d. Available form:<>

Swenson, John. New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans. Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Storb, Ilse. Louis Armstrong: The Definitive Biography. 1999. Print.

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