Louis Armstrong

Icons of the Century

His smile alone would captivate millions around the world, but it was Armstrong’s distinctive trumpet playing and singing style that set him apart from virtually every American musician who came before and after.

The songs Armstrong made between 1925 and ’29 include some of the most important recordings in the history of jazz, which was then breaking out as America’s most popular music and would become its greatest export to the world. His solos were the models for millions of musicians’ solos that followed over the next eight decades.

“His influence is inescapable,” says New Orleans-bred trumpeter Nicholas Payton. It’s a sentiment that musicians and singers the world over would agree with. Armstrong was the first musician to be an innovator as a composer, instrumentalist and singer.

Armstrong’s first recordings as a leader — with his Hot Five — were made in late 1925: “Gut Bucket Blues,” “My Heart” and “Yes! I’m in the Barrel.” Those discs, along with his sides made with the Hot Seven, have made it through the 78, vinyl album and CD eras. In a world in which each generation discards the pop music of its predecessor, that’s a unique achievement

The Grammy Hall of Fame has inducted eight of his recordings, including his signature versions of “Mack the Knife,” “All of Me,” “West End Blues” and “What a Wonderful World,” plus “Porgy and Bess” with Ella Fitzgerald.

At 63, Armstrong was able to battle with the Beatles, the Beach Boys and the casts of several Broadway hits on the album charts as his “Hello Dolly!” spent 35 weeks on Variety’s record sales chart in 1964. By that point Armstrong had succeeded as an actor, a singer and an ambassador, not just of jazz, but of America as well.

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