New music Legend Louis Armstrong is Matter of Black History Month Lecture

February 17, 2023

Jazz, swing, and pop icon Louis Armstrong was hailed for the duration of St. John’s University’s Black Historical past Month Lecture as one of the finest and most influential musicians of all time—a man who broke a multitude of colour barriers as a result of his audio and singing, as very well as his public stances towards racial injustice.

“If you acquire nearly anything away from this discussion, I would like it to be this: you can identify a million fantastic instrumentalists and you can title a million wonderful singers, but Louis Armstrong is the only individual you can identify who wholly improved the way that men and women played songs on their instruments, and he wholly transformed the way the earth sang. You just simply cannot obtain anybody else who was ready to do any of those matters,” claimed Ricky Riccardi, Director of Investigate Collections for the Louis Armstrong Household Museum, which is situated in the residence Mr. Armstrong shared with his wife, Lucille, in Corona, Queens, NY.

Mr. Riccardi built his remarks this thirty day period as he pretty much sent the lecture, “The Fantastic Globe of Louis Armstrong.” The occasion was sponsored by St. John’s Department of Background and the Africana Reports minimal application. Jessica L. Harris, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Background and Director of the Africana Reports small, hosted the lecture.

Mr. Riccardi is creator of What a Great Planet: The Magic of Louis Armstrong’s Later on Yrs, and Heart Complete of Rhythm: The Significant Band Several years of Louis Armstrong, which was named “Best Reserve of 2020” by Jazz Times magazine. In 2022, he won a GRAMMY Award for Greatest Album Notes that he wrote for a 7-CD box set, The Complete Louis Armstrong Columbia and RCA Victor Studio Periods 1946–1966. He is also an accomplished jazz pianist.

Mr. Riccardi’s discussion of Louis Armstrong’s lifestyle and audio included his early a long time in New Orleans, LA, where by he was born in poverty in 1901 his groundbreaking recordings in the 1920s his overseas excursions as “Ambassador Satchmo,” at just one level actively playing a concert guiding the former Iron Curtain and throughout Europe and Africa and the racist boundaries he labored to upend.

By 1932, Mr. Armstrong was the most important-providing artist in the recording industry and he started traveling with his orchestra all-around the place to extend the audience for his unique, and according to Mr. Riccardi, his “full, massive, golden” musical sound and scat-singing—a kind of improvised jazz singing.

“But it was not easy for African American musicians on the street at that time,” reported Mr. Riccardi. “They could not remain right away in any of the lodges for White individuals, nor dine in several dining establishments since of their pores and skin colour, nor have obtain to community rest rooms. They experienced to enter the back again entrances of venues the place they have been scheduled to accomplish and leave the similar way.”

But during the Swing Era, which transpired from 1935 right until World War II in the 1940s, the audio excellent was also “breaking down one racial barrier right after a further,” in accordance to Mr. Riccardi. Mr. Armstrong, for case in point, was the 1st Black musician to insert a clause in his effectiveness contracts that stipulated he would not perform in any resort venues where by he would be barred from overnight lodgings.

He was the first African American musician to presume the purpose of announcer on radio broadcasts. In 1936, Mr. Armstrong grew to become the 1st Black musical artist to get featured billing with fellow White performers in a Hollywood, CA, movie (Pennies from Heaven), that also starred famed singer Bing Crosby.

The largest hit of Mr. Armstrong’s life span transpired in 1964 with the launch of the track Hello there, Dolly!, from the Broadway present of the exact same title.

“This took area at the peak of Beatlemania, when the Beatles had 14 straight months of quantity-just one hit music and they were being knocked off the leading of the charts by 62-year-outdated Louis Armstrong,” Mr. Riccardi mentioned, including the Civil Legal rights Movement was in complete swing for the duration of that period of time.

But the smash results of Howdy, Dolly! was preceded by a modify in attitudes toward Mr. Armstrong between younger Black musicians that emerged throughout the early and mid-1950s. “After several years of breaking down all of these racial obstacles and becoming a hero in the African American community, Louis Armstrong starts off observing a shift in his standing, where by a new era of Black jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie viewed him as a relic and pressed him to communicate out extra versus racial injustice,” said Mr. Riccardi.

He observed that Mr. Armstrong, who generally insisted on integrating his orchestras and bands with Black and White musicians, was incredibly harm by the young musicians’ dismissal of him as exhibiting “Uncle Tom subservience,” or describing him as a “plantation character.” Claimed Mr. Riccardi, “It bought really unappealing and it deeply damage Louis Armstrong.”

“In his thoughts, he was foremost his fellow African People by case in point, but now folks want him to arrive out and say much more,” he reported.

The trumpet participant did so in 1957 when an incensed mob of White men and women descended on Small Rock Central Significant College in Very little Rock, AR, as it was becoming integrated by 9 African American learners, who became regarded as the Minimal Rock Nine. Then-Governor Orval Faubus mobilized the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the integration work and a virulent crowd of White protesters gathered for times at the college to scream, spit on, and curse the younger learners as they tried out to enter the faculty.

People hateful steps, which attained nationwide interest, prompted Mr. Armstrong to angrily denounce the violence although he was interviewing with the press, reported Mr. Riccardi. “He set his career on the line to talk out extremely publicly against racial injustice. He said, ‘Because of the way they are dealing with my people today in the South, the US governing administration can go to hell and [US President Dwight D. Eisenhower] has no guts’ for not sending in the military services to safeguard the Very little Rock Nine.”

As a end result, Mr. Armstrong faced prevalent criticism for his words of condemnation, even amongst outstanding Black friends, this kind of as Thurgood Marshall, previous associate justice of the US. Supreme Court, and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., the very first African American to be elected to Congress from New York. “They considered his decision of terms was much too strong. It was not normal to be indicating issues like this in 1957. Then, entertainers were being always patriotic and supportive of the president,” explained Mr. Riccardi.

“Louis would not back again down. He named the push and reported, ‘No, I stand by anything I reported,’” said Mr. Riccardi. “He said, ‘My folks just want a reasonable shake. When I see on television or examine about a group spitting and cursing at these children, I feel I have a suitable to get sore and say anything about it.’”

“This was a defining minute of Louis Armstrong’s off-stage career—and it worked,” Mr. Riccardi stated, noting Mr. Eisenhower subsequently dispatched federal troops to make certain the security of the learners as they entered the high school, which was correctly built-in.

“You can unquestionably study how to be a far better human getting by finding out the daily life of Louis Armstrong,” claimed Mr. Riccardi.