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Music Is My Life

Louis Armstrong, Autobiography, and American Jazz

Daniel Stein

Publication Year: 2012

Music Is My Life is the first comprehensive analysis of Louis Armstrong's autobiographical writings (including his books, essays, and letters) and their relation to his musical and visual performances. Combining approaches from autobiography theory, literary criticism, intermedia studies, cultural history, and musicology, Daniel Stein reconstructs Armstrong's performances of his life story across various media and for different audiences, complicating the monolithic and hagiographic views of the musician. The book will appeal to academic readers with an interest in African American studies, jazz studies, musicology, and popular culture, as well as general readers interested in Armstrong's life and music, jazz, and twentieth-century entertainment. While not a biography, it provides a key to understanding Armstrong's oeuvre as well as his complicated place in American history and twentieth-century media culture.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: Jazz Perspectives

Title Page, Copyright

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Introduction. “Music is my life, and I live to play”: Louis Armstrong’s Jazz Autobiographics

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pp. 1-29

To study jazz, we are often told, means to study something uniquely and centrally American. In his opening remarks to the seminal anthology The Jazz Cadence of American Culture (1998), Robert O’Meally calls jazz “a massive, irresistibly influential, politically charged part of our culture” and “the master...

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1. “I have always been a great observer”: New Orleans Musicking

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pp. 30-65

Reviewing Louis Armstrong’s second autobiography, Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, the music historian Henry Kmen wrote in 1955: “Unfortunately, the earliest jazz musicians were not given to keeping written records, and their music was not, nor could it be, formally composed on...

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2. “I done forgot the words”: Versioning Autobiography

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pp. 66-107

For Louis Armstrong, discussing his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings for Esquire was nothing out of the ordinary. Writing and typing were part of a daily encounter with the past. Two letters from his vast epistolary output elucidate the nature of this encounter. In 1952, he wrote to Betty Jane...

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3. “Diddat Come Outa Mee?”: Writing Scat and Typing Swing

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pp. 108-144

One of the most frequent claims about Louis Armstrong’s speech and writing is that they resemble his trumpet playing and singing. An early reviewer of Satchmo, for instance, noted that the autobiography was “less a book than a literary jam session”; others have argued that Armstrong “used...

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4. “A happy go lucky sort of type of fellow”: The Productive Ambiguities of Minstrel Sounding

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pp. 145-182

The Louis Armstrong House Museum owns an anonymous watercolor caricature that depicts Armstrong with his Jewish manager Joe Glaser (ca. 1950). Armstrong is grinning somewhat uneasily, flashing a row of white teeth, holding his trumpet and clutching in his hands the white handkerchief...

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5. “He didn’t need black face—to be funny”: The Double Resonance of Postcolonial Performance

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pp. 183-226

In the opening paragraphs of Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong portrays his social surroundings as well as the characters that inhabit these surroundings: “James Alley [. . .] lies in the very heart of what is called The Battlefield because the toughest characters in town used to...

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6. “My mission is music”: Armstrong’s Cultural Politics

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pp. 227-257

For many, Armstrong’s King Zulu appearance of 1949 signaled the end of his relevance as a figure of modern racial identification. If a mass audience was able to see him in minstrel terms as a reassuring figure of the past, he was clearly out of step with the growing unrest among African Americans...

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Conclusion. “What do you know about that?”: Final Thoughts on “Laughin’ Louie”

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pp. 258-272

In one of the most impressive studies of black music in the United States published in recent years, Ronald Radano turns to the historical and musical significances of Louis Armstrong’s music twice. Two brief passages of Lying Up a Nation: Race and Black Music (2003) discuss Armstrong’s recordings...


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pp. 273-323

Suggested Listening

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pp. 325-326

Suggested Further Reading

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pp. 327-333


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pp. 335-349

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028504
E-ISBN-10: 0472028502
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051809
Print-ISBN-10: 0472071807

Page Count: 344
Illustrations: 10 halftones
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Jazz Perspectives