1. Why he wore a Star of David pendant:
Louis Armstrong’s childhood was wrought with troubles. His hometown was nicknamed “the Battlefield” for its rampant poverty, and a single mother who struggled daily to make ends meet raised him. However, Armstrong’s formative years were made less bleak by a family of Jewish immigrants called the Karnofskys, who often kept him fed and procured him various odd jobs with which to make some spare cash. It was with their help that he bought his first musical instrument, a cornet.
2. Where he learned to play:
At just 11 years old, Armstrong was arrested for firing a pistol into the air on New Year’s Eve. In an ironic stroke of luck, his 18-month stay in juvenile detention was where he met his mentor, Peter Davis, the facility’s music teacher. He started to find success relatively quickly after his release, and he credits it all to Davis’s guidance.
3. How his wife shaped his career:
Though he essentially worked as a freelance artist jumping from band to band in his early career, Armstrong’s then-wife, pianist Lil Hardin, was adamant that he was capable of much more. She signed him up for a solo act without his knowledge, and despite his initial hesitance to go through with it, he was almost immediately signed for a record deal after his first solo shows. From that point on, Louis Armstrong was a star.
4. His more illicit proclivities:
Many musicians in Armstrong’s era were hard drinkers, but the legendary trumpeter had a preference for marijuana. He was among the very first celebrities to be arrested for possession, but that didn’t stop him enjoying it for years to come.
5. How his playing style can be dangerous:
Armstrong’s iconic fast-paced, high-note hitting sound took a brutal toll on his lips, often leaving them severely cracked and calloused. Other musicians who suffer from the safe affliction now refer to it as “Satchmo’s Syndrome.”
6. His feud with the White House:
After holding his tongue on racism and segregation for many years, Armstrong had finally had enough when the “Little Rock Nine” incident came to light. He famously blasted President Eisenhower for his reluctance to take action against the forced segregation and police brutality-taking place, which caused quite a stir in the media.
7. How he became “Ambassador Satch”:
Armstrong was one of the first American musicians to go out on full-blown world tours, some of which were sponsored by the government. He was enormously popular in an ambassadorial trip to Africa, where he would later joke than two contentious states halted a civil war to watch him play.
8. When he gave the Beatles a run for their money:
When the Beatles burst onto the scene in the early ‘60s, they seemed unstoppable. For a brief time, however, Armstrong’s theatrical number “Hello Dolly!” dethroned two Beatles songs and shot to number one on the charts. He was 62 at the time.
9. His posthumous hit:
Ironically, Armstrong’s most iconic song, “What a Wonderful World,” was met with a lukewarm response when he first released it in 1967. It wasn’t until 1987, sixteen years after his death, that the song was used in Good Morning, Vietnam and claimed the legendary status it still carries today.