By all odds, Louis Armstrong, born out of wedlock on August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, raised in the city's poorest quarter, out of school and working for a living before he'd finished fifth grade, was not slated to become world-famous. Yet against all odds he not only survived but thrived. Sent to reform school at age 12, he learned the fundamentals of music there and by the time he was 16 was able to supplement his income from work as a longshoreman or day laborer by playing his cornet on weekends in such rough joints as the Brick House, where, as he tells us in his autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans
, "Levee workers would congregate every Saturday night and trade with the gals who'd stroll up and down the floor and into the bar. Those guys would drink and fight one another like circle saws. Bottles would come flying over the bandstand like crazy, and there was lots of just plain common shooting and cutting. But somehow all that jive didn't faze me at all, I was so happy to have some place to blow my horn."
"Little Louis," the first nickname he was ever known by, could be tough when required but mostly made friends wherever he went. He credited his maternal grandmother - the one permanent adult presence in his early childhood years - with instilling in him the system of values that would carry him through his extraordinary life and enable him to confront with equanimity situations and experiences he could not have imagined in his youth. As he describes them, these fundamentals seem deceptively simple: "I didn't go any further than fifth grade in school myself. But with my good sense and mother-wit, and knowing how to treat and respect the feelings of other people, that's all I've needed through life."
~ Dan Morgenstern: Portrait of the Artist, 1901-1971, Liner Notes zu: "Louis Armstrong: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1923-1934", Columbia/Legacy & Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994, S. 31.