Wednesday, August 04, 2010
While Louis Armstrong* always maintained he was born on the 4th of July, 1900, in the years following his July 1971 death it was discovered that this was a bit of patriotic wishful thinking; he was in fact born on this day in 1901!
The grandson of slaves, born out of wedlock, he lived as a child in the rough neighbourhood of Uptown New Orleans... Despite having everything against him from the start - or, then again, likely because of it - Louis Armstrong rose to the kind of enduring prominence of the sort which even the ambitious go-getters of Striver's Row could only dream. For a child harbouring a talent as vast as his, there was no better place for him to have grown up... The honky-tonks and speakeasies of Storyville and Bourbon Street and the French Quarter were then alive with the mixture of ragtime and Creole music that would one day become known as jazz - a form which he would one day do much to innovate and popularize and indeed even help to invent. It's just further proof that 'the right place and the right time' may not always be apparent from up close.
In the last years of Armstrong's life he said 'I think I had a beautiful life. I didn't wish for anything that I couldn't get and I got pretty near everything I wanted because I worked for it.' After his death his colleague Duke Ellington said it even more succinctly: 'He was born poor, died rich, and never hurt anyone along the way.'
On the Sunny Side of the Street first appeared in 1930 - with music composed by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics by Dorothy Fields - in the Broadway musical Lew Leslie's International Revue, starring Harry Richman and Gertrude Lawrence; it has since been recorded by a veritable Who's Who of musical talent, including Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Jo Stafford, Frank Sinatra, and Cyndi Lauper. This performance of it by the man himself is from April 1958.
*There remains some debate over just how to pronounce his name... Early in his career he seemed to favour 'Louie', even going so far as to pronounce it that way on recordings; this French pronunciation would be in keeping with his having been born in New Orleans. Then again, later in life he was known to pronounce it 'Lewis', as he did on his famous recording of Hello Dolly! - which version seems to have been embraced ever since his death, especially by white scholars.
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