Year
1971

Satchmo dies

Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century, dies in New York City at the age of 69. A world-renowned jazz trumpeter and vocalist, he pioneered jazz improvisation and the style known as swing.

Louis Daniel Armstrong was born in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, in 1901. He grew up in poverty and from a young age was interested in music. In 1912, he was incarcerated in the Colored Waif’s Home for Boys, allegedly for firing a gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. While there, he played cornet in the home’s band. Upon his release, he dedicated himself to becoming a professional musician and soon was mastering local jazz styles on the cornet. He attracted the attention of cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, and when Oliver moved to Chicago in 1919 he took his place in trombonist Kid Ory’s band, a leading group in New Orleans at the time. He later teamed up with pianist Fate Marable and performed on riverboats that traveled the Mississippi.

In 1922, King Oliver invited Armstrong to Chicago to play second cornet in his Creole Jazz Band, and Armstrong made his first recordings with Oliver the following year. In 1924, he moved to New York City and demonstrated his emerging improvisational style in the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. In 1925, Armstrong returned to Chicago and formed his own band–the Hot Five–which included Kid Ory, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, and pianist Lil’ Hardin, Armstrong’s second wife.

This band, which later grew into the Hot Seven, recorded some of the seminal pieces in the history of jazz, including “Savoy Blues,” “Potato Head Blues,” and “West End Blues.” In these recordings, Armstrong abandoned the collective improvisation of New Orleans-style jazz and placed the emphasis on individual soloists. He switched from cornet to trumpet during this time and played the latter with unprecedented virtuosity and range. In the 1926 recording “Heebie Jeebies,” he popularized “scat singing,” a style in which jazz vocalists sing musical lines of nonsensical syllables in emulation of instrumental improvisation. His joyous voice, both coarse and exuberant, was one of the most distinctive in popular music.

In 1929, Armstrong returned to New York City and made his first Broadway appearance. His recordings, many of which were jazz interpretations of popular songs, were international hits, and he toured the United States and Europe with his big band. His music had a major effect on the swing and big band sound that dominated popular music in the 1930s and ’40s. A great performer, Armstrong appeared regularly on radio and in American films, including Pennies from Heaven (1936), Cabin in the Sky (1943), and New Orleans (1947). In 1947, he formed a smaller ensemble, the All-Stars, which he led until 1968.

Louis Armstrong had many nicknames, including Satchmo, short for “Satchelmouth”; “Dippermouth”; and “Pops.” Because he spread jazz around the world through his extensive travels and hit songs, many called him “Ambassador Satch.” Although in declining health in his later years, he continued to perform until his death on July 6, 1971.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Hartford Circus Fire

In Hartford, Connecticut, a fire breaks out under the big top of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum Bailey Circus, killing 167 people and injuring 682. Two-thirds of those who perished were children. The cause of the fire was unknown, but it spread at incredible speed, racing up the ...read more

Women inducted into U.S. Naval Academy

In Annapolis, Maryland, the United States Naval Academy admits women for the first time in its history with the induction of 81 female midshipmen. In May 1980, Elizabeth Anne Rowe became the first woman member of the class to graduate. Four years later, Kristine Holderied became ...read more

Frank family takes refuge

In Nazi-occupied Holland, 13-year-old Jewish diarist Anne Frank and her family are forced to take refuge in a secret sealed-off area of an Amsterdam warehouse. The day before, Anne’s older sister, Margot, had received a call-up notice to be deported to a Nazi “work camp.” Born in ...read more

Althea Gibson wins Wimbledon

On this day in 1957, Althea Gibson defeats Darlene Hard 6-3, 6-2 to become the first black player ever to win Wimbledon. Gibson was born in South Carolina on August 25, 1927, and raised in Harlem. She started playing tennis in 1942 at the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club under the ...read more

George Walker Bush is born

On this day in 1946, George Walker Bush, the son of future President George Herbert Walker Bush, is born in New Haven, Connecticut. When he was two years old, Bush’s parents moved to Texas. where the elder Bush worked in the oil industry. Bush was nicknamed “Dubya” for his middle ...read more

Mark Twain begins reporting in Virginia City

Writing under the name of Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens begins publishing news stories in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise. Born in Missouri in 1835, Clemens followed a circuitous route to becoming an observer and writer of the American West. As a young man he apprenticed as ...read more

John meets Paul for the first time

The front-page headline of the Liverpool Evening Express on July 6, 1957, read “MERSEYSIDE SIZZLES,” in reference to the heat wave then gripping not just northern England, but all of Europe. The same headline could well have been used over a story that received no coverage at all ...read more

Forrest Gump opens, wins Hanks a second Oscar

On this day in 1994, the movie Forrest Gump opens in U.S. theaters. A huge box-office success,the filmstarred Tom Hanks in the title role of Forrest, a good-hearted man with a low I.Q. who winds up at the center of key cultural and historical events of the second half of the 20th ...read more

Explosion on North Sea oil rig

On this day in 1988, an explosion rips through an oil rig in the North Sea, killing 167 workers. It was the worst offshore oil-rig disaster in history. The Piper Alpha rig, which was the largest in the North Sea, was owned by Occidental Oil and had approximately 225 workers ...read more

George “Bugs” Moran is arrested

FBI agents arrest George “Bugs” Moran, along with fellow crooks Virgil Summers and Albert Fouts, in Kentucky. Once one of the biggest organized crime figures in America, Moran had been reduced to small bank robberies by this time. He died in prison 11 years later. Bugs Moran’s ...read more

U.S. policymakers express optimism

In the light of a deepening ideological rift between the Soviet Union and China, U.S. officials express their belief that Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev will seek closer relations with the United States. Unfortunately, the optimism was somewhat misplaced. Although China and the ...read more