Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Concert, Broadcast Honor Louis Armstrong

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Concert, Broadcast Honor Louis Armstrong

Article excerpt

"Born on the Fourth of July." A likely story. And yet it's been claimed by everyone from the hero of the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy" to Hollywood mogul Louis B. Mayer, who used to host big MGM studio picnics every July 4 to celebrate "his" birthday.

Louis Armstrong really did believe he was born on the Fourth of July.

It wasn't until years after the great jazzman's death, in 1971, that newly recovered records established his actual birth date as Aug. 4, 1901 - not July 4, 1900, as his mother had told him.

This posed a problem for WKCR-FM (89.9), the Columbia University radio station, which beginning in 1970 had turned the 24-hour "Louis Armstrong Birthday Broadcast" into a July 4 tradition.

John Philip Sousa might be the more popular July 4 soundtrack. But thousands of metro area jazz fans prefer Armstrong - who is considered by many to be the true father of American music - and blast "West End Blues" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" as they grill their July 4 hot dogs. What to do?

These days WKCR hosts two birthday broadcasts - one on Armstrong's actual birthday, Aug. 4, and one on his "traditional" birthday - Wednesday. Armstrong, says Grammy-winning jazz expert and WKCR radio host Phil Schaap, is worth it.

"I have often said on the radio that no one, including myself, has listened to enough Louis Armstrong," Schaap said in a 2004 interview.

Armstrong - who always insisted his first name was pronounced "Lewis" - has been called one of the cornerstones, not just of jazz, but of American culture as well.

The New Orleans-born trumpet player didn't invent jazz, true. But he turned the jazz solo into an art. He reinvented pop singing - previously stiff and fake-operatic - with his growly vocals, paving the way for everyone from Frank Sinatra to Axl Rose. And he elevated the idea of "swing" - the lilt or groove that gives American music its kick - to center stage. …

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