Happy Birthday, Louis Armstrong!

Louis Armstrong cuts into an enormous cake at his 70th birthday party, New Orleans Jazz Museum Collection

Louis Armstrong cuts into an enormous cake at his 70th birthday party, New Orleans Jazz Museum Collection

Happy birthday, Louis Armstrong!

“I was born in 1900,” begins Louis Armstrong’s autobiography. “Mayann told me that the night I was born . . . was the fourth of July, a big holiday in New Orleans, when almost anything can happen.”[1]

Louis was actually born on this day, August 4, 118 years ago, to Mary Ann “Mayann” Albert and William Armstrong. It is unclear why his mother, who was just fifteen when she gave birth to Louis, told the young Satchmo that he was born on the fourth of July. Perhaps she didn’t; one scholar suspects Louis might have claimed an earlier birth date “to appear older.”[2] And in 1918, when Louis began playing in the local honkytonks, a seventeen-year-old was a minor in the eyes of the law. An eighteen-year-old, however, was free to play in all the Bourbon Street clubs his heart desired.

The date stuck, and Louis claimed an Independence Day birth his entire life. In fact, in 1965, New Orleans Mayor Victor Schiro, in his speech declaring October 31 “Louis Armstrong Day,” said “on the fourth of July, 1900, when everybody else in the United States was celebrating the Nation’s Independence, a New Orleans woman became the mother of a boy who was to become one of Uncle Sam’s most unique, significant and successful ambassadors.”[3]

It wasn’t until 1988 that historian Tad Jones discovered an entry in the Sacred Heart of Jesus baptismal books, which noted that an August 25 baptism of a boy named Louis, the child of the unmarried couple William Armstrong and Mary Albert, born three weeks prior, on August 4, 1901.

Baptism of Louis Armstrong, 1901. Courtesy of the Office of Archives and Records, Archdiocese of New Orleans.

Baptism of Louis Armstrong, 1901. Courtesy of the Office of Archives and Records, Archdiocese of New Orleans.


[1] Louis Armstrong, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans (New York: Da Capo Press, 1986), 7-8.

[1] Gary Giddins, Satchmo: The Genius of Louis Armstrong (New York: Da Capo Press, 2001), 22.

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