Before Bono There Was Satchmo

4 Aug

Louis Armstrong, jazz trumpeter and singer known affectionately as Satchmo, was born on August 4, 1901, 112 years ago today in New Orleans, LA. He rose from playing big bands, to appearing in movies, to playing world tours. In 1949, he was the first jazz musician to appear on Time magazine’s cover.

Performing together in 1956 with the NY Philharmonic, Maestro Leonard Bernstein said this to the audience about Armstrong: “… what he does is real and true and honest and simple and even noble.”

He wasn’t only talking about his music. By breaking barriers along his way, Satchmo transcended his place in music to an equally significant place on the world stage. Touring Africa, Europe, and Asia on behalf of the U.S. State Department, he became known as Ambassador Satch.

But he was having second thoughts about a goodwill tour to the Soviet Union. On September 17, 1957 he spoke to a journalist before a concert in Little Rock, Arkansas, criticizing President Eisenhower’s inaction over school desegregation there. He made his position clear: “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell … The people over there ask me what’s wrong with my country. What am I supposed to say?”

What a splash his comments made in the papers across the country. Some people criticized him and boycotted his concerts, others backed him and cheered him. He cancelled that Soviet tour. And what happened next was a marvel. On September 24, President Eisenhower sent paratroopers from the 101st Airborne into Little Rock, and the next day soldiers escorted the nine students into Central High School. Armstrong sent a wire to the president: “If you decide to walk into the schools … take me along, Daddy. God bless you.”

We admire musicians who take a stand for human rights. Today, Bono is one of the best examples of an artist who uses his celebrity for good causes. Back in the middle of the last century, Ambassador Satchmo’s actions made a difference. In fact, inspired by Armstrong’s ability to bring people of different colors together, in 1967 songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote What a Wonderful World just for him. How apt that it is one of his most popular and enduring recordings.

LouisArmstrongSatchmo.thegreat

 

Source:
Leonard Bernstein quote: Satchmo the Great (1957) documentary/CBS Sunday Morning, August 4, 2013
Little Rock: David Margolick/NY Times, September 23, 2007

 

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