Sample Music Essay Paper on Diversity And Historical Issues Related To Jazz

Life and Career of Louis Armstrong

Born on 4th August 1901, in the USA and Nicknamed Pops, Satch or Satchmo, Louis Daniel Armstrong, was a man of many talents. He was an occasional actor, composer and a trumpeter renowned for his Jazz prowess. Armstrong had a troubled childhood having been disowned by his father, William Armstrong, a factory worker.[1] He was brought up by his mother Mary Armstrong and his maternal grandmother. At age eleven, Armstrong dropped out of school. This was to later land him in informal groups. On new years’ eve on December 31, 1912, he fired a gun and was sent to reform school. While in the reform school, his musical skills were discovered. He was a member of the school band and played the cornet and bugle. His contribution and enthusiasm for music and musical instruments were qualities that made him appointed the school band leader. He was released from the reform school on June 16, 1914. He then started to  rely on manual labor to establish a career in music. Armstrong joined the cornetist Joe Oliver in the kid Ory Band whom he later replaced in 1918. This was after Oliver’s relocation to Chicago.

 In the spring of 1919, Armstrong joined the Fate Marable band until the fall of 1921. His Five-decade career started in the 1920s all through to the 60s. His skills in trumpet playing blended well with his stage presence and was regarded as one of the pioneers of popular music. His skills in music were evident in his skills at scat singing. These skills enabled him to overcome the racial barriers at a time when America was racially divided. This was because Armstrong was well accepted by the upper echelons of the society owing to his personality and artistry. He rarely politicized his race much to the dismay of his fellow African-American community.

In 1923, Armstrong made his first record as a member of Oliver’s band. Under the persuasion of his wife, Lillian Harden, (married in 1924) a pianist in the Oliver band, he left the Oliver band and joined Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York. In 1925, Armstrong returned to Chicago and joined the Dreamland Syncopators band which his wife was also a member. This saw him switch from cornet to trumpet.[2] His contribution in music had gained him sufficient notice among music recorders. On November 12th, 1925, he got contracted to Okeh records. This was where he made his debut recordings. He made a series of recordings with studio groups. These included the Hot Fives or the Hot Sevens. Recording of Muskrat Ramble by the Hot Fives gave him a top ten hit in July 1926. During his time with the Hot fives, he managed to transform Jazz into a soloist art and made more than 60 records.

Perception of race in the U.S.

Louis Armstrong was a silent fighter for civil rights. He integrated the Blacks and whites silently through his music. His music was enjoyed by Blacks and Whites alike. Together with “King” Oliver, they popularized Jazz which used to be predominantly played in nightclubs only frequented by the blacks. [3]His silent revolutionary tactics were often criticized at a time when the Black community was actively agitating for equal rights. His cancellation of a goodwill tour to the Soviet Union after the Little Rock Central High School crisis was remarkable. He never wavered to pressure for him to change his looks. During his tours, he insisted on being booked in luxury hotels where Blacks were excluded. His personality enabled him to create a good relationship with the public and the government alike.

Events and personalities involved in the progress achieved in breaking the color barrier in jazz in the 1930s.

The 1930s was a difficult period; the great depression had befallen the United States with over 25% of the population without jobs. With many businesses closing shop, Jazz music was resilient. The community embraced Jazz and it played a key unifying factor among the races. The spread of Jazz in the 1930s following the invention of the radio and popular Jazz periodicals like the Downbeat heightened competition between blacks and whites.  The repeal of the prohibition of alcohol in 1933 helped to spread the sounds of swing. Legitimization of speakeasies following the repeal of alcohol enhanced the spread of Jazz to large audiences through radio waves.

 A notable personality who was involved in breaking the race is John Hammond. He was an advocate of racial equality who believed that it was only through unity that the Blacks and Whites can prosper. He demonstrated this when he hired a black pianist, Teddy Wilson to perform with Benny Goodman’s band. He highly criticized Duke Ellington who played at the Cotton club, whites only. Jazz made people to question racial barriers in the society and consider the need for integration. Benny Goodman, with a large radio following, hired Fletcher Henderson with whom he had purchased 36 arrangements from in 1934. Goodman won the American public with a taste of real Black music. He helped legitimize real Jazz and in the process made a mark for racial tolerance.

Effects of Jazz on race relations

Jazz was a unifying social force for blacks and whites at a time when the two communities lived like two separate nations within the United States.[4] The genre provided a rare avenue through which a majority of young white Americans discovered the rich black culture. Jazz musicians played a vital role in bridging the gap in racial discrimination. Teddy Williamson and Lionel Hampton broke the color barrier when the two worked for Benny Goodman. The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, led by Paul Meres who was trained by “King” Oliver. Though members of this band were predominantly white, they recognized Jazz music and by so doing, embraced the African culture. Music was one way through which the black community overcame white dominance. Jazz music made an impact on the young generation of the Swing era, College and high school students embraced the new genre. [5]James Lunceford played a significant role to bring together high school music students. Blacks and whites were represented and produced a true collaboration of the Blacks and Whites. Jazz music had an appeal to both the whites and the blacks, providing a culture where the individual and the collective became inextricable. Jazz provided a space where a person’s ability was judged individually and not by race. [6]Billy Holiday delivered her song “Strange fruit” inspired by the lynching of two blacks; Thomas Ship and Abram Smith in 1930. The hit became an anthem of early civil rights crusade. Jazz music played a significant role to bring together the Blacks and Whites at a time when the American society was experiencing hard times.


Morgenstern, Dan. The Jazz Story. [New York]: [New York Jazz Museum], 1973.

Monson, Ingrid T. Freedom Sounds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

A History Of Jazz. Ware, Hertfordshire: Jade Books, 1983.

[1] Dan Morgenstern, The Jazz Story ([New York]: [New York Jazz Museum], 1973).

[2] A History Of Jazz (Ware, Hertfordshire: Jade Books, 1983).

[3] Ingrid T Monson, Freedom Sounds (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[4] A History Of Jazz (Ware, Hertfordshire: Jade Books, 1983).

[5]A History Of Jazz (Ware, Hertfordshire: Jade Books, 1983).

[6] Dan Morgenstern, The Jazz Story ([New York]: [New York Jazz Museum], 1973).