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Title: Blog by Novelist William S. Frankl, MD

Louis Armstrong and American music

My friend, Dan Garshman, reminded me of this milestone.

Louis Armstrong and American music

On today’s date, July 6, 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>”

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