Scoot: Satchmo Fest New Orleans-Why it's so special

August 05, 2018 - 7:55 pm

The legendary trumpeter with one of music’s most unique voices, Louis Armstrong, is being celebrated in his hometown of New Orleans with the 18th annual Satchmo Fest this weekend.  Louis Armstrong once told an interviewer that if it weren’t for jazz there “would be no rock n roll.”  And there is a lot of support for the idea that jazz laid the foundation for rock n roll.

Like most legends, Louis Armstrong was an innovative jazz trumpeter and did things on his horn that created a style that soon inspired other trumpet players.  Armstrong’s incredibly distinctive voice, along with his style of blowing the trumpet, combined to make Louis Armstrong a talent that was setting trends.  His warm, sincere charm broke down racial barriers.

In 1964, pop music in America was dominated by The Beatles and a few other British Invasion pop bands.  But in 1964, Armstrong’s version of “Hello Dolly” hit #1 on the Billboard charts, knocking The Beatles’ “Can’t By Me Love” from the top stop.  That made a monumental statement about this man called “Satchmo.”

Louis Armstrong once dropped his sheet music containing lyrics to a song during a performance and he replaced the singing with sounds that imitated musical instruments and that is the moment Louis Armstrong is credited by many for inventing “scat” singing.

Armstrong was not political and as a popular black artist during the battle for civil rights, some black leaders were critical of him for not doing more to promote the movement toward equality.  Armstrong remained silent, for the most part, until 1957.  When he witnessed segregationists and the Arkansas National Guard trying to prevent nine black students from entering Little Rock High School, Armstrong spoke out saying, “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell.”  He also condemned President Eisenhower and said, “The president has no guts.”

Louis Armstrong boycotted playing in his hometown of New Orleans for nearly ten years because the city did not allow integrated bands to perform.  Armstrong returned to perform again in New Orleans in 1965 after the passage of the Civil Rights Act and his fans loved it.

Louis Armstrong died in New York in 1971 and his obituary in the New York Times, read that in 1965 when police attacked a peaceful march in Selma, Alabama, Armstrong again expressed his outrage at injustice, saying, “They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched.”  He spoke about supporting the movement with his donations” and said, “My life is my music.  They would beat me on my mouth if I marched and without my mouth I wouldn’t be able to blow my horn.”  Silent on the fight for equality was no longer an option for the once non-political Louis Armstrong.

New generations were introduced to Louis Armstrong when his hit, “What A Wonderful World” was used as part of the soundtrack in “Good Morning, Vietnam” starring Robin Williams.  The song was written as a song that recognized the beauty of the world around us.  But in “Good Morning, Vietnam” the song was set to scenes of the realities of war.  The message of the song sung with such simple emotion by Armstrong was juxtaposed to scenes showing the harshness of war. Originally released in 1968, the song peaked at #116 on the charts, but 20 years later after being used in “Good Morning, Vietnam,” the song reached #32 and new generations were hearing Louis Armstrong played among the top pop hits.  “What A Wonderful World” was indicted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

According to the Armstrong House Museum, Louis pronounced his name the American way - Lou “us” - but was not offended by the French pronouncement of “Louie.”  The Satchmo Fest is held every year in New Orleans in conjunction with Armstrong’s birthday, August 4, and that’s the ONLY acceptable excuse for holding an outdoor festival in the steamy month of August in the Big Easy.  The center of the celebration, which includes two stages, is the New Orleans Jazz Museum, formerly the U.S. Mint, which is located at the back part of the French Quarter near the famous French Market.

The Satchmo Fest features traditional jazz, along with brass and traditionally invites local artists that have been inspired by the great Louis Armstrong, even if their genre is not jazz.  Satchmo’s favorite meal, read beans and rice, is among the food items for sale and since it’s New Orleans you know there is a large variety of beverages to cool down the crowd on a hot August afternoon!

Satchmo Fest is held in the first part of August to coincide with Louis Armstrong’s birthday, but the fact that it is held during a time of year when people are sweating, it’s a fitting visual to see many people at the fest holding towels to wipe their sweat, which reminds us of the iconic white towel Louis Armstrong often held to wipe his sweat when he was performing.

On the 100th anniversary of his birth, the New Orleans airport was renamed Louis Armstrong International Airport in his honor.

The uniqueness of Louis Armstrong personifies the uniqueness of his hometown - New Orleans!

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