Raised by his mother in extreme poverty, at the age of 12 Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) served a term for delinquency at the Colored Waifs Home, after celebrating the New Year by running out on the street and firing a pistol that belonged to the current man in his mother's life. The New Orleans Times-Democrat reported that “very few” juveniles had been arrested during the New Year revelry, though “the most serious case was that of Louis Armstrong, a 12 year old negro who discharged a pistol at Rampart and Perdido streets. Being an old offender he was sent to the negro Waif’s Home.”
It was at the Colored Waifs Home, where Armstrong learned to play the the bugle and the clarinet. He eventually became the leader of the home's brass band.
He introduced scat when recording "Heebie Jeebies," supposedly because he dropped the sheet music.
During a command performance for George V when touring Europe in 1932, Armstrong forgot he had been told that performers were not to refer to members of the Royal Family while playing for them. Just before picking up his trumpet for one particular number, he announced: "This one's for you, Rex."
He acquired his nickname of Satchmo during his 1932 Grand Tour of Europe. Up until that time Armstrong's nickname was Satchelmouth, but a London music magazine editor, unable to read his notes, wrote "Satchmo" in an article.
The 62-year-old Armstrong became the oldest act to top the US charts when Hello Dolly reached #1 in 1964. Four years later Satchmo also became the oldest artist to record a UK #1, when What A Wonderful World hit the top spot.
He had four wives - Daisy Parker, a prostitute (1918); Lil(lian) Hardin, a jazz pianist who gave him some formal musical education (1924); Alpha Smith (1938); and Lucille Wilson, a showgirl (1942).
Armstrong may have been bulimic as he believed that it didn't matter what you ate, as long as you purged yourself regularly afterwards. He would do that with the help of an herbal laxative called Swiss Kriss.
Armstrong's intuitive genius for improvisation single-handedly shaped the course of jazz, transforming it from an ensemble style to an art of solo improvisation.
His contagious humor and flamboyant style made him an ideal goodwill ambassador for American music. As Armstrong's non-jazz audience grew, he appeared frequently on television making him the most famous Jazz musician in the world.
Sources Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc