Louis Armstrong (August 4, 1901 – July 6, 1971), nicknamed Satchmo, Satch and Pops, was an American trumpeter, composer, singer and occasional actor who was one of the most influential figures in jazz. His career spanned five decades, from the 1920s to the 1960s, and different eras in the history of jazz.
Armstrong was born and raised in New Orleans, the son of a prostitute and a mostly absent father. In these early years, he grew up, alternatively, under the care of his maternal grandmother, and with his mother and any one of her common-law husbands. He started working at a very young age for Morris Karnoffsky, a Lithuanian-Jew who peddled out of his junk wagon. The family did not only employ the young Armstrong, but also fed him and treated him like a member of the family. Somewhat simultaneous with his work for the Karnoffskys delivering buckets of coal and helping to sell salvaged goods, he attended the Fisk School for Boys until he was eleven years old. Later, he was arrested for firing a gun into the air and sentenced to live in a juvenile reform school, the Waif's School for Colored Boys. While he had already started learning the play the cornet before his incarceration, he played in and later led the school's band, where he was tutored by Peter Davis. A few years later, a judge released Louis into the care of his father and his stepmother, but this lasted for just a few months before returning to his mother, where he lived with a young sister. As a teenager, he took some music lessons from Bunk Johnson and also attracted the attention of Kid Ory. As an older teenager he played regularly in street bands, occasionally in clubs for pay, and began blowing trumpet for evening riverboat cruises. This last engagement led to his first full-time job as a musician, playing in Fate Marable's band on the Mississippi River aboard a steamer tramping near St. Louis.
Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an "inventive" trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. Around 1922, he followed his mentor, Joe "King Oliver" to Chicago to play in the Creole Jazz Band. In the Windy City, he networked with other jazz musicians, reconnecting with his friend, Bix Biederbecke, and made new contacts, which included Hoagy Carmichael and Lil Hardin. He earned a reputation at "cutting contests," and moved to New York in order to join Fletcher Henderson's Band.
With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also very skilled at scat singing. Armstrong is renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet playing, Armstrong's influence extends well beyond jazz, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to "cross over", whose skin color was secondary to his music in an America that was extremely racially divided at the time. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation in the Little Rock crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society which were highly restricted for black men of his era.