Composers Datebook®

Louis Armstrong and American music


On today's date in 1971, jazz great Louis Armstrong died in New York City at the age of 69. He was born in New Orleans, and for years, all the standard reference books listed his birthday as the Fourth of July, 1900. Well, it turned out that wonderfully symbolic date was cooked up by Armstrong's manager Joe Glaser. Louis himself wasn't sure when he was born, so the 4th of July seemed as good a date as any, and was accepted as fact for many years. Eventually documents were discovered that proved Armstrong was actually born on August 4, 1901.

Armstrong earned the nickname "Satchmo"—short for "Satchelmouth"—and in later years he was affectionately dubbed "Pops." If the documentary filmmaker Ken Burns is to be believed, Armstrong was the central figure in the development of jazz in the 20th century.

In the 1960s, radical blacks criticized Armstrong as an "Uncle Tom" too eager to please white audiences, forgetting that it was Armstrong, alone among his jazz peers, who courageously criticized President Eisenhower for not defending the black children attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

The British music critic Norman Lebrecht offered this assessment: "Armstrong never bowed his head nor sang from anywhere but the heart. He was a figure of enormous dignity and a musical innovator of universal importance."

Acknowledging his influence in American concert music, composer Libby Larsen subtitled one of her works, a 1990 Piano Concerto, "Since Armstrong."

Music Played in Today's Program

Louis Armstrong (1901 - 1971) Skip the Gutter Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five Columbia 44422

I'm in the Barrel arr. David Jolley Windscape Arabesque 6732

On This Day


  • 1864 - Brazilian composer Alberto Nepomuceno, in Fortaleza

  • 1898 - German composer Hans Eisler, in Leipzig

  • 1906 - English composer Dame Elizabeth Lutyens, in London


  • 1971 - Jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong, age 71, in New York City

  • 1973 - German conductor and composer Otto Klemperer, age 88, in Zürich

  • 1999 - Spanish composer Joaquin Rodrigo, age 97, in Madrid


  • 1963 - Leslie Bassett: "Variations for Orchestra," in Rome; Following the American premiere on October 22, 1965 with the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy, this work was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1966

  • 1968 - David Del Tredici: "Syzygy" (to a text by James Joyce), in New York City

  • 1977 - Tippett: opera, "The Ice Break" at Covent Garden in London


  • 1913 - In Paris, the Grand Prix de Rome music award is given to 19 year-old Frenchcomposer Lili Boulanger (1893-1918), the first woman to be so honored

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®