Greatest Jazz Musician of the 20th Century

Jazz trumpetFrom his rough upbringing singing for pennies on New Orleans street corners, Louis Armstrong lived through many eras of American life. He experienced the harsh segregation of the South, where he began by entertaining mostly black audiences. But he went on to perform for people of all races and was idolized by countless musicians. Civil rights activists said he sold out to gain white acceptance. But despite the hurtful racial snubs, Armstrong was too exuberant, ambitious, and complex an artist and a man to be defined by his critics. Such is the saga of Satchmo, as told in the engaging new biography Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009) by Terry Teachout.

In writing this solidly researched and balanced biography, Teachout has relied on hundreds of Armstrong’s private tape-recordings of backstage and after-hours conversations. The author weaves this material into a flowing story, letting Armstrong’s voice speak on almost every page. Many books have been written about aspects of Armstrong’s accomplishments and adventures, but Teachout’s Pops will likely become the gold standard.
A strong point of Pops is that it refutes the myth that the young genius, after blazing a trail through the Roaring Twenties, settled into a comfort zone of commercialism for the rest of his career. Teachout writes: “The virtuoso-clown and the fertile improviser were one and the same man.” Louis Armstrong’s fun-loving disposition made everyone who came into contact with him feel good. His happiness was infectious, and his broad smile and trademark gravelly voice won people’s hearts everywhere.

Related Links

  • Sachmo, Warts and All, in “Pops”
    A book review of Terry Teachout’s Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong; includes the book’s cover image.
    (Source: Associated Press, January 3, 2010)
  • Kudos to Satchmo
    A book review Terry Teachout’s new biography of Louis Armstrong by the archivist of the Louis Armstrong House Museum that puts the biography’s significance in context. (Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, January 2, 2010)
  • Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong
    Includes “Inside This Book” feature, book review, and Amazon exclusive letter from author Terry Teachout along with author’s Top 10 Louis Armstrong recordings.
    (Source:; accessed January 7, 2010)
  • PBS—Jazz a Film by Ken Burns, Selected Artists’ Biographies: Louis Armstrong
    A short biography from the PBS film Jazz by Ken Burns; includes audio music samples and interview excerpts.
    (Source: Public Broadcasting System; accessed January 7, 2010)
  • Louis Armstrong House Museum
    The home of Louis Armstrong in New York City where he lived from 1943 until his death in 1971 is a National Historic Landmark and a museum.
    (Source:; accessed January 7, 2010)

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