Louis Armstrong: A Life in Quotes | History Hit

Louis Armstrong: A Life in Quotes

Teet Ottin

05 Oct 2022
Louis Armstrong in 1955
Image Credit: Herbert Behrens / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Stating that Louis Armstrong was influential in the history of jazz would be a grave understatement. Born in 1901 to a poverty stricken family in New Orleans, he became renowned for being a genius on the trumpet, establishing himself as a household name not only in the United States but across the world. Jazz broke into the mainstream during the beginning of the 20th century, with Armstrong becoming one of its leading figures.

His talent, humour and warm presence can be felt while listening to his interviews and music, with songs such as What a Wonderful World and Dream a Little Dream of Me becoming especially popular with audiences.

Louis Armstrong was passionate about his work and the world of music until his death in 1971. Here’s a selection of his greatest quotes.

Louis Armstrong, head-and-shoulders portrait, 1953 (cropped)

Image Credit: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer: Herman Hiller., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

‘If you still have to ask, shame on you.’

(His answer to the question ‘What is Jazz?’, often misquotes as ‘Man, if you gotta ask you’ll never know.’)

Louis Armstrong in Belgium, 1952

Image Credit: IISG, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

‘If it’s left to people that’s peaceful with music, there wouldn’t be no wars. Wouldn’t be none.’

(December 1955)

Louis Armstrong at Edmonton Gardens, 10 September 1957

Image Credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

‘I was always a great observer in life and quite naturally that’s part of my life, education or whatever you want to call it but there is very little I missed, you know?’

(Interview with Willis Conover, 13 July 1956)

Louis Armstrong blowing his trumpet while Grace Kelly looks on in a photograph from the set of the MGM motion picture ‘High Society.’

Image Credit: Associated Booking Corp., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

‘The way they’re treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell.’

(‘The New York Times’, 19 September 1957)

Louis Armstrong in July 1946

Image Credit: William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

‘When I was a kid in New Orleans I could see so many things that was brought from Africa all over the world.’

(Interview with Studs Terkel, 24 June 1962)

Louis Armstrong arriving in Finland, May 1962

Image Credit: Erkki Pälli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Making money ain’t nothing exciting to me. … You might be able to buy a little better booze than some wino on the corner. But you get sick just like the next cat, and when you die you’re just as graveyard dead as he is.’

(‘Ebony magazine’, November 1964)

Louis Armstrong in the Netherlands, 26 May 1965

Image Credit: Joost Evers / Anefo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

‘I think it’s nice to have a lot of friends and a lot of fans. They never let you down. What more can you ask in life? I think I’m blessed.’

(Interview with Les Tomkins, 1 January 1965)

Louis ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong plays for fans on arrival at Mascot, Sydney. 27 October 1954

Image Credit: State Library of New South Wales, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons

‘The people put me in my seat, and I’ll never let them down. And there’s no problem: they love music, and I love music too.’

(‘The Slivovice Interview’, 1965)

Lucille Wilson and Louis Armstrong, 1960s

Image Credit: SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Seems to me, it ain’t the world that’s so bad but what we’re doin’ to it. And all I’m saying is, see, what a wonderful world it would be if only we’d give it a chance. Love baby, love.’

(Spoken intro to ‘What a Wonderful World’, 1970)

Louis Armstrong in Oslo, 1955

Image Credit: National Archives of Norway, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

‘I don’t want to prove anything. I just like to blow my horn. And I enjoy hearing myself play.’

(Interview for ‘Jasmin magazine’, 1971)

After World War 2, America feared communist infiltration of its institutions, including Hollywood.
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