Louis Armstrong, "World's Greatest" Trumpet Player

When Louis Armstrong was born in the New Orleans of 1901, who could have predicted his future musical glory?  At age 13 he  seemed headed for trouble when he was sent to the Home for Boys, but this institution handed him a cornet and the key to his success.  By 1917 he had replaced his idol Joe "King" Oliver in the Kid Ory Band.  Oliver migrated to Chicago and soon sent for Armstrong,  who opened with the Creole Jazz Band at Lincoln Gardens on 31st Street in 1922.  By 1926 Armstrong was billed by the Carroll Dickerson Orchestra as the "World's Greatest Trumpet Player," playing at the Sunset Cabaret at 35th and Calumet.

The already popular Louis formed his own band, the "Hot Five," and began recording an enduring body of classic jazz work.  He first toured Europe in the 1930s, to wide acclaim, and later tours would earn him the title "goodwill ambassador" of the United States.  His full career included contributions to over thirty films (such as "Pennies from Heaven" and "Hello Dolly").   His jazz compositions ("If We Never Meet Again") continue to thrive, and his recordings of songs like "Ain't Misbehavin'" will be played as long as there are ears to hear.   Armstrong created his distinctive style of  "scat" singing a perfect vocalization of jazz melodies that forever changed the development of jazz.  He died peacefully in 1971 in New York.

Armstrong v. Armstrong (Circuit Court #B-101250) was filed by Louis Armstrong August 30, 1923.  The file includes the complaint (" bill for divorce") that gives the date and place of marriage, states the grounds for divorce (desertion), and requests that the judge grant permission for each party to remarry.  The bill lists no children as having been born to or adopted by the couple.

At the hearing on November 15, 1923 before Judge Thomas J. Lynch, Armstrong testified as to the date of his marriage and how long he had lived in Cook County.  Two witnesses, giving their occupations, testified that Armstrong had lived apart from his wife during the previous two years and that they had known him much longer than that (five and six years).

The Decree for Divorce, issued almost immediately, was filed December 18, 1923 in the Circuit Court of Cook County.  However, on February 1, 1925 Armstrong's former wife Daisy filed a petition to vacate the decree, alleging that her husband had falsely stated she had deserted the marriage and also that he had deliberately listed her New Orleans address incorrectly so that she would not receive a copy of the summons.  She further gave another date for their marriage.  Finally, she stated that Armstrong was already under court order in New Orleans to pay her weekly support when he filed for divorce.  Mrs. Armstrong petitioned that the judgement for divorce be set aside and that Armstrong pay her alimony.  There was, however, no further activity in this case.

Armstrong v. Armstrong contains other procedural documents, including summons and appearance.  It is typical of routine Cook County divorces during much of the 20th century.  To view this file, contact the Archives at 312 603-6601.

For further research, contact Columbia College's Center for Black Music Research  or the Louis Armstrong House and Archives.

The general reader may find the following books enjoyable and useful:

Armstrong, Louis.  Satchmo:  My Life in New Orleans.  New York:  Prentice Hall, 1954;  reprint, New York:  Da Capo, 1986.

Bergreen, Laurence.  Louis Armstrong:  An Extravagant Life.  New York:  Broadway books, 1997.

Berrett, Joshua.  The Louis Armstrong Companion:  Eight Decades of Commentary.  New York:  Schirmer Books, 1999.

Giddins, Gary.  Satchmo .  New York:  Dolphin, 1988; reprint, New York:  De Capo, 1999.

Travis, Dempsey.  The Louis Armstrong Odyssey:  From Jane Alley to America's Jazz Ambassador .  Chicago:  Urban Research Press, 1997.