We've been celebrating a number of birthdays on this site of late -- Barbara Stanwyck a few weeks back, and this week both William Powell and Myrna Loy. So I hope one more won't seem to overdo it...but then again, when it comes to Louis Armstrong, overdoing it is impossible.
Curiously, Louis never celebrated his birthday on its actual date, Aug. 4, 1901 -- but that wasn't his fault; he had always believed he had been born on July 4, 1900. His genuine birthdate wasn't uncovered until New Orleans baptismal records were found in 1987. So in a way, Louis Armstrong has two birthdays...and there aren't too many people who better deserve such an honor.
Louis grew up in the squalor of New Orleans' worst slum, but music helped him find his way out. His astonishing skill on the cornet (a predecessor to the trumpet) made him locally renowned, and when he moved to Chicago in 1922, that renown gradually became national. Louis taught American music how to swing, first as an instrumentalist, then as a vocalist. His influence resonates many decades later and goes beyond genre. Here's Louis in 1925:
Perhaps Louis' most influential recordings were with the Hot Five, a Chicago studio combo of the mid-1920s (they only appeared in concert once; Armstrong's live dates in the era were usually with large orchestras). They helped define the improvisational nature of jazz in all sorts of ways. (The woman in the picture is Lil Hardin, his wife at the time and an accomplished pianist.)
About 1929 or so, after the Hot Five disbanded, Louis went in a slightly different direction, performing many of the pop standards of the day such as "Stardust," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "I'm Confessin'," giving them his unique vocal spin. (He and Bing Crosby, a longtime friend, helped revolutionize jazz singing with their swinging, intimate styles.)
If you want to hear what Louis was all about, listen to WKCR-FM in New York through 6 a.m. (ET) Sunday, as it is having an Armstrong marathon. It's 89.9 FM on the dial if you're in the New York area, or go online to http://www.wkcr.org.
Okay, so you're wondering now, what's the connection between Louis Armstrong and Carole Lombard? Well, there's no documented evidence I know of that they met, though it's entirely possible. For much of 1930 and through early 1931, Louis worked in the Los Angeles area. Here's the info from http://www.redhotjazz.com:
"In July of 1930 Louis Armstrong moved to California and 'fronted' the Les Hite Orchestra. It was renamed Louis Armstrong's Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra, after a club on Washington Blvd. in Culver City, Calif., where the band played. Armstrong's engagement there was a great success and he stayed at the nightclub until March of 1931."
One would think there was a good chance that Carole, who certainly was fond of nightlife, went to see Armstrong perform there during this extended engagement.
In 1936, while Lombard was still at Paramount, Armstrong went to the studio to film a scene in Crosby's musical "Pennies From Heaven." We know Carole and Bing were on friendly terms after filming "We're Not Dressing" two years before, so it's possible she dropped by the soundstage when Louis was there.
There are two more links between Armstrong and Lombard. Early in 1937, Lombard's film "Swing High, Swing Low" was released, and at the Paramount Theater in Manhattan, Armstrong's orchestra appeared on stage in between showings. Later that year, Lombard made "True Confession," and as was common practice at the time, a song by that title was composed by Paramount's Sam Coslow and Fredrick Hollander. Louis and his orchestra recorded a version for Decca on Jan. 12, 1938, and it became a moderate hit.
Did Carole own any of Armstrong's records? That hasn't been documented, but one wouldn't be surprised if she did. After all, both were timeless.