This biographical article is part of JAZZ.FM91’s supplementary research component to expand on The Journey to Jazz and Human Rights documentary podcast series. Click here to find out more.
For biographical information about Louis Armstrong, click here.
People often point to Louis Armstrong as being perhaps the biggest figure (and an early one) in producing jazz and love songs that were adored by both Black and white audiences. Ultimately, this was a triumph as there was a level of respect given to African-American culture that you would not find in any other sphere. As stated by Scott Deveaux, “There was always a way in which excellence in the music itself was read as political, and part of a struggle for the recognition of one’s full humanity.”
In tune with the theme of economic rights, this was all occurring during the 1920s and ’30s, when an explosive growth in dance music and American technology for reproducing things (such as radio and recordings) was taking place. Many Black musicians saw this as an ideal opportunity to make their music known. But as Deveaux points out, “Music has always been an area that white people have been comfortable having Black people do for them. In some ways, it’s kind of like the kitchen labour, butlers, things of this sort, musicians tend to wear black tuxedos, but that’s like livery for white people. It makes them feel like they’re being catered to.”