Louis Armstrong, nicknamed “Satchmo” (short for satchelmouth), was one of the most influential 20th Century jazz musicians. Along with his many musical accomplishments, he is also credited with spreading and popularizing riverboat jazz throughout the world.
Armstrong was born in New Orleans around 1898. He grew up in extreme poverty, but prevailed despite his difficult circumstances. His musical career started at a young age when he was given a cornet during a stay at the Home for Colored Waifs. Over the next few years, he developed a local reputation as the hottest young trumpeter in the Crescent City. In 1918, Fate Marable, a bandleader for the Streckfus Steamboat Line, hired Armstrong. Marable had a reputation of being a stern taskmaster, and took a challenge with the rough, untutored Armstrong. Though he spent only five years on the boats, this was a pivotal period for Armstrong’s musical development and accordingly, for all of jazz.
Under Marable’s direction, Armstrong developed tremendously as a musician. He learned to read music and started to be featured as a solo performer. His popularity on the Streckfus Line helped him mature from a talented but raw musician into a focused and versatile professional. He left the boats in 1922 to pursue his aspirations of international fame.
Armstrong’s significance to jazz is incalculable. His role in spreading the regional jazz music of the river community to the entire world was only one of many achievements. Armstrong died in 1971, but will forever be remembered as introducing this uniquely American art form to America and the world.