One of the most important artists in twentieth century American music, Louis Armstrong is credited with developing the modern solo style that has dominated jazz music for almost 75 years. The illegitimate child of a 15-year-old girl, Armstrong grew up in the red light district of New Orleans singing in the streets to earn money for his family. At age 13 he was arrested for firing a pistol in public on New Year's Eve and was sentenced to the Colored Waifs' Home for Boys. There he learned how to play the cornet and became a member of the facility's band.
Upon turning an adult Armstrong left the home, finding work with several of the best bands in New Orleans, including those of Fate Marable and Kid Ory. In 1922 Joe ''King'' Oliver offered Armstrong a job with his successful orchestra in Chicago. He accepted and headed north. Working with Oliver allowed Armstrong to broaden his reputation, and soon he was recognized as one of the top horn players in the country.
In 1923 Armstrong left Oliver to join Fletcher Henderson in New York. Henderson had recently formed a new band and needed help establishing its direction. Armstrong's arrival in the Big Apple prompted quite a stir as New Yorkers flocked to hear his innovative sound. Armstrong spent a year with Henderson, and briefly worked with Clarence Williams before heading back to Chicago to join Erskine Tate. Between 1925 and 1928 he made recordings with his Hot Five and Hot Seven groups.
It was during this period that Armstrong defined the vocabulary that all jazz soloists would use from that point forward. He also helped established the soon-to-be-standard 4/4 swing tempo and the theme-solo-theme format, the idea of the soloist at the center no longer playing short, simple breaks with slight melodic embellishment but fully-improvised chord-based solos of a whole chorus or longer.
In his early days Armstrong was known for blowing as loud and as high as he could. Lip trouble during the early 1930s forced him to be less aggressive and focus more on the melody. He never actually led an orchestra of his own, instead borrowing other bandleader's outfits to accompany him. During the 1930s he mostly recorded with the Luis Russell Orchestra, although he would occasionally cut songs with such artists as the Dorsey Brothers or the Casa Loma Orchestra.
Some of his more impressive recordings, though, were not made with a big band but with all-star jazz groups or small outfits that he fronted himself and on duets with other top artists such as Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, the Mills Brothers, Frances Langford and Jack Teagarden. Louis Armstrong continued to record, perform, and appear in films up until his death from a heart attack in 1971.