Louis Armstrong, who was born Aug. 4, 1901, developed into a major musical force and innovator as a trumpeter, singer and an entertainer. Although he was not the first jazz musician, he permanently changed the music early in its development. When one considers his very humble beginnings, just the fact that he grew up to become an adult could be considered beating the odds.
Armstrong was born in the poorest area of New Orleans. His mother raised him as best she could after his father abandoned the family when Armstrong was a baby. As a youth, he often sang on the streets in a vocal group for pennies. He loved hearing the many brass bands that filled the city and got excited whenever a parade was nearby. Louis did odd jobs for a local Jewish family that loved him and bought him his first cornet when he was ten. On New Year’s Eve of 1912, Armstrong shot a pistol in the air in celebration. He was immediately arrested and, when the court decided that his mother could not raise him properly, he was sent to a Waif’s home for orphans. Life looked bleak for the youngster but music turned out to be his salvation.
The disciplined atmosphere and the Waif’s home inspired young Louis Armstrong to work hard on mastering the cornet. When he was released two years later, he was considered a promising musician. Armstrong idolized cornetist Joe “King” Oliver, one of New Orleans’ top musicians who became a father figure for the teenager. When Oliver moved up North in 1918, he recommended that the youngster get his spot with trombonist Kid Ory’s pacesetting band. Armstrong improved rapidly, learning to read music while playing on riverboats with Fate Marable’s group. In 1922 when King Oliver decided to add a second cornetist to his Creole Jazz Band which was based at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago, he sent for his protégé.
At the time, most jazz soloists only made brief statements, emphasizing staccato phrases, staying close to the melody, and often punctuating their solos with double-time phrases that were repetitive and full of effects. At Armstrong’s first rehearsal with Henderson, the other musicians initially looked down on the newcomer because of his out-of-date clothes and rural manners. But their opinions changed as soon as Louis played his first notes. 
Until tomorrow: Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.