The music of Louis Armstrong is deeply imbedded into America’s popular culture. It has been the background music in the films of Woody Allen and Nora Ephron. The song, What a Wonderful World, has been used seriously and ironically in everything from narrative films, to documentaries to television shows and commercials. Mr. Armstrong’s music has been popular for the last eighty years and is the definitive example of classic jazz.
There is no other instrumental performer whose style is so instantly recognizable and there is no other trumpeter whose music was as clear and precise as that of Satchmo. Mr. Armstrong was born 114 years ago on August 4, but Portlanders can celebrate his birth just a bit late at Louis Armstrong’s Night in Holladay Park On Saturday, August 15, beginning at 5:30 p.m.
The park was selected for the celebration because Mr. Armstrong performed at Lloyd Center fifty years ago. The free celebration will feature a performance by the Bridgetown Sextet as well as a screening of a Ken Burns documentary about Mr. Armstrong. The event will feature food carts and a birthday cake to celebrate the legends life. The day will also feature an interview with local celebrity, saxophonist Reggie Houston, who has performed with Fats Domino and The Neville Brothers.
Mr. Armstrong was born in New Orleans in 1901 where he experienced a rough childhood, to say the least. He was the grandson of slaves and he grew up in the Storyville District, where prostitution was legal. When his father abandon the family his mother turned to prostitution. He says he used to dance on the street for pennies which he would store in his mouth for safe keeping. He claims that his interesting method of coin storage was where he earned the name Old Satchel Mouth or Satchmo. He also earned money by doing odd jobs for a Jewish family that took him in and fed him. He wore a Star of David for the rest of his life to show his solidarity with Jewish people.
He got into trouble with the law several times for which he was sent to The New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs. It was at this home that he learned to play the cornet. He eventually took jobs playing in brass bands and on riverboats until he finally landed a job with Joe “King” Oliver’s band in Chicago.
From there Mr. Armstrong went on to become America’s quintessential jazz musician. He was able to perform any style of jazz from Dixieland, to standard to experimental. He recorded records with Alberta Hunter, Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. He would appear in films such as High Society and Hello Dolly.
Mr. Armstrong was the subject of some controversy in the 1960’s. He was considered to be too subservient to white performers, by activist for racial equality. His portrayal of Uncle Remus in Disney’s Song of the South was considered to be degrading and racist by some.
He was an early activist for medicinal marijuana and often smoked it himself. He was also a believer in purging, which involved taking mass quantities of laxatives and vomiting in order to cleanse one’s body.
In spite of his enormous talent and popularity, Satchmo never earned the number of Grammy’s given to such modern day recording artist as seven time winners Taylor Swift and John Mayer. He one a single Grammy for Best Male Vocalist in Hello Dolly. He was remembered with a lifetime achievement award in 1972 one year after his death. Eleven of his records are included in the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The birthday celebration will run from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at Holladay Park; an early arrival is recommended.
Eliza Gale – PortlandMetroLive Contributor
Eliza Gale began her blogging career interviewing aspiring actors and industry professionals on a Los Angeles based website called Curvewire. She started www.elizagalesintervviews in 2012 and has interviewed over three hundred people about their jobs and businesses since then. She has contributed many interviews to 360drinks.com, which is a Portland based happy-hour website. She also writes for Examiner.com and AXS.com.