Women Of Black History: 5 Things To Know About Lil Hardin Armstrong

February 2, 2017  |  

hbd #LilHardinArmstrong ♡ #LouisArmstrong

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As we begin the month of February, so begins the celebration of Black History Month. We here at MadameNoire believe that now, more than ever it seems, it’s important to embrace, celebrate and share the accomplishments of those who have come before us. As we are a site centered around Black women, it’s especially important to shine a light on the the contributions of Black women who have had an impact on Black history, which is American history. Without them, there would be no us. 

Starting our spotlight series is Lillian “Lil” Hardin Armstrong. The Memphis-born pianist is one of the first woman jazz instrumentalists. Her skills made her a formidable piano player in some of the most popular jazz bands, the only woman showing off her talents for Lawrence Duhe’s New Orleans Creole Jazz band and later, King Oliver’s. She was also the wife of Louis Armstrong and played a crucial role in helping him gain fame as a solo trumpeter. Her story was usually overshadowed by his (she literally died seven weeks after him while performing at his memorial concert), but this time around, we’re putting Lil front and center. Here are five things to know about the legendary jazz musician.

Her Family Sent Her to Fisk to Keep Her Away From Blues Music

Lillian initially picked up the piano after being taught by her third grade teacher. She used her burgeoning talents to play regularly in church after learning hymns, spirituals and classical music on the piano. Still, she had an affinity for popular music. To her mother, she liked blues music a little too much. As Lillian got older, she was sent to Fisk University in Nashville to stay away from such music and to gain music training. When she returned home, her family even tried to pick up and move to Chicago to keep her away from it all. Bad idea. Lillian got a job in a music store in the city where she demonstrated music, ended up meeting Jelly Roll Morton, and found herself obtaining offers to play for various bands, including Lawrence Duhe’s band, which eventually turned into King Oliver’s.

Her First Husband Almost Held Her Back

Soon after she started playing in King Oliver’s band, Lillian met, fell in love with and married singer Jimmy Johnson. All the touring around the United States as King Oliver’s band gained popularity created a rift between Lillian and Jimmy. Eventually, she felt it necessary to quit the tour to go back home to Chicago and take care of her marriage. She eventually joined the band again when they came to Chicago, and around that time, Louis Armstrong joined the band, too. They found themselves drawn to one another. Lillian’s marriage to Jimmy fell apart first, Louis’s marriage to wife Daisy followed suit. Afterward, the pair started dating.

Competition Brought Lillian and Louis Together

While they eventually fell in love, they weren’t head over heels for one another immediately. As previously stated, they both joined King Oliver’s band around the same time, and when they did, Oliver stated that he thought Louis was the better musician of the two. In an effort to prove her own talents, she started paying attention to Louis. Obviously, things started heating up. The couple married on February 5, 1924.

She Encouraged Louis Armstrong to Go Solo

Lillian is said to be the one who encouraged Louis to go the solo route. The move proved to be a fantastic idea, as Louis catapulted to fame. She helped him change his style, the way he wore his hair, and she was the one who told him to join Fletcher Henderson’s legendary group. When he started doing his solo recordings, she played on them. Unfortunately, as his fame grew, so did his wandering eye. Lillian ended up divorcing Louis in 1938, and she was able to keep the rights to songs they co-composed. They were said to have remained friends even after the split.

She Started All-Female Bands Before Moving Away From Music

Lillian eventually returned to Chicago, obtained a teaching diploma from the Chicago College of Music and ended up forming her own bands. Sometimes they were all-female, other times they included only males. She also went solo and played the piano as well as went the singer/songwriter route. For some reason though, later in her life, Lillian started focusing less and less on music. She found herself teaching, working as a clothing designer and even became a restaurant owner. She was truly a Jill of all trades.

| lilian 'lil' hardin armstrong (feb 3, 1898 – aug 27, 1971) was a #jazz pianist, composer, arranger, singer & bandleader. hardin was also the second wife of louis armstrong with whom she collaborated on many recordings in the 1920s. hardin's #compositions include 'struttin' with some barbecue', 'don't #jive me', 'two #deuces', 'knee drops', 'doin' the suzie-q', 'just for a thrill' (which became a major hit when revived by #raycharles in 1959), 'clip joint' & '#badboy' (a minor hit for #ringostarr in 1978). #lilhardinarmstrong's composition 'oriental swing' was #sampled heavily to create #parovstelar's 2012 retro-song '#bootyswing', which in turn gained #notoriety when it was used in a 2013 #chevrolet commercial. #lilhardin. composer, arranger. #bandleader. hardin was also a #guidinglight for her husband, the legendary #louisarmstrong. many don't know how amazing she was & that she led a band in the early 1920s, which was highly uncommon during that time. the #blackexcellence.

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