Louis Armstrong: The Man Behind the Trumpet

Nate Sloan – USC Thornton School of Music

Louis Armstrong is known for his funny voice and great smile, but he’s also one of the most inventive and original jazz musicians of the 20th century. He arrived on the scene like a comet in the 1920s, and quickly became known for his personality as much as for his trailblazing musical style. He remained in the limelight for the following four decades, even beating out the Beatles for the #1 song in 1964 with his recording of “Hello Dolly.”

But how did this kid beat the odds to escape the “Colored Waifs Home for Boys” in New Orleans and become jazz’s first superstar? Join Professor Sloan to explore the musical innovations, classic performances, and key recordings that made Armstrong instantly recognizable around the world. We’ll listen to and analyze some of his most famous recordings, watch and discuss legendary filmed performances, and study how he influenced every musician who followed in his wake: from Bing Crosby to Billie Holiday. By the end of this talk, you’ll have a new appreciation for the genius, and the continued relevance, of the man behind the trumpet.


Discussion Questions:

  1. How might American popular music sound different today without the contributions of Louis Armstrong?
  1. Why was Armstrong’s music rejected by the “bebop generation” of musicians who succeeded him?
  1. How was Armstrong influenced and inspired by his second wife, Lil Hardin, and why have her contributions been ignored by music historians?


Professor Sloan’s Recommended Reading:

Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, by Louis Armstrong

Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout

Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans, by Thomas Brothers