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
Love the music?
Show your support by making a gift to YourClassical.
Each day, we’re here for you with thoughtful streams that set the tone for your day – not to mention the stories and programs that inspire you to new discovery and help you explore the music you love.
YourClassical is available for free, because we are listener-supported public media. Take a moment to make your gift today.
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.