Louis Armstrong – Music, Meaning, and Marijuana?

Louis Daniel Armstrong, born on August 4th 1901, has always been a staple of 20th century Black music. Growing up, he was constantly referenced as a musician, both a trumpeter, vocalist, as well as composer. His life may have seemed to be glamorous as ever, but he lived his life not without struggles, some struggles that many of us can only pale in comparison to.

Louis Daniel Armstrong

Louis Armstrong was abandoned by his father and rarely was ever in contact with his mother during his early years. He primarily raised himself growing up in a ghetto in New Orleans. He survived in those early years by singing on the street corner for tips. When he was 11, he formed his first vocal quartet, this became his source of income for this time. In January 1913, Armstrong was sent to the Colored Waifs Home after firing a gun in public. It was at this home that he joined the school’s band, playing drums. After being a part of the group, he found he was more attracted to horn instruments, so he switched to the trumpet, which is how we primarily know him as today.

During this time he was able to continue his music and get a piece published. His first public work was titled “I Wish I Could Shimmy like My Sister Kate’ which was a moderate success. He continued to grow his musicianship by joining an orchestra, even though he was unable to read music still at this time. He kept up with his composing and began to record Jazz Albums in 1924/1925. Armstrong was able to influence jazz, blues, and rock vocalists alike. Predating rap, his scat style later peaked with the piece “Basin Street Blues.”


Sometime during the 1920’s, Armstrong was introduced to marijuana by white jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow, Armstrong enjoyed smoking it heavily throughout his life, this is one contributor to the calm, cool demeanor that we know him by today. By 1929, Armstrong took a more commercial route, singing more popular tunes and replacing his combo with that of larger orchestras. Armstrong was always much more a featured soloist than a bandleader.


In 1934, Armstrong severely damaged his lips, so while he kept his playing to a minimum, his preference to singing took the centerpiece for his career.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Armstrong was considered an innovator for his styles, predating rap, as well as in the early 1940’s, Armstrong predicted the fall of a larger band style and began to work back to his smaller combos. He was one of the first Black musicians to “Break the Color Barrier” by performing in the largest concert halls all over the world. It is his career that defines him as an important figure.

Arguably his most popular number, Armstrong has held his position of international fame with the recording of the song “What a Wonderful World”. This song speaks to the good things and the joys in this world, focusing less on the negative, he attempts to paint a picture of the beautiful things that can still be found on this planet. While the initial release of this song wasn’t immediately popular, it wasn’t until after his death where this song really found its popularity in the 1988 Robin Williams movie “Good Morning, Vietnam”


Talveski, Nick. “Louis Armstrong.” In The American Mosaic: The African American Experience, ABC-CLIO, 2017. Accessed November 15, 2017. https://africanamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/1461506.

What a Wonderful World. August 7, 2016. Accessed November 14, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CWzrABouyeE.

Duke Ellington’s, Music is my Mistress

“My favorite tune? The next one. The one I’m writing tonight or tomorrow, the new baby is always the favorite”    -Duke Ellington

The opening words from Duke Ellington’s autobiography: Music is my Mistress. This autobiography was considered by Duke to be “more of a performance than a memoir”. Ellington never wanted to write an autobiography about himself, and he hasn’t. Divided into 8 separate acts (or sections) this book is an account of the people he has met, the experiences he has had, and the music that he has made throughout his life.

Duke Ellington

Ellington was born just before the turn of the 20th century in Washington D.C. and raised primarily in New York city. With a career spanning over 50 years, Ellington is considered to be one of the most influential Jazz composers of all time. Being a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington primarily gained fame with his orchestra’s performances in the Cotton Club in Harlem as well as the touring of Europe. He was an essential figure in the world of Jazz by redefining what was considered to be American Music. He considered himself an American Composer, not simply a composer and performer of Jazz music. Having over 1000 cataloged works, Ellington has certainly made his mark on history.

One particular correspondence that I feel really draws the character of Ellington was a passage describing Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane. Ellington does on to describe how it was working with these 3 men and how privileged he felt. It is a real glimpse into the humble person that was Duke Ellington.

“The only time I had the privilege of working with John Coltrane was a record date… John Coltrane was a beautiful cat, I am proud to say that I loved every minute of it”

Works Cited

Ellington, D. (1973). Music is my mistress (1st ed., African American music reference). Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

Amidst the vast collection of Vinyl records found within the Halverson music collection, one album that stands above so many is “A Love supreme” by  John Coltrane. This album, recorded in January of 1965, has become one of the most popular and well known records ever created. The release of this album brought John Coltrane to a new level of recognition and fame and it serves as a staple of Hard Bop and free form Jazz and spiritual music. Being a 4 part “suite” the album is divided up into multiple movements, beginning with the “Acknowledgement” then moving to the Resolution”, “Pursuance”, and “Psalm”. This album, which was intended to be a spiritual album, makes a direct connection to Coltrane’s mindset that his talents and abilities come not from himself, but rather, from a spiritual higher power.

Album Cover for “A Love Supreme”

One of the things that makes this album so unique is that it was recorded in a single studio session, in a single day of January 1965. The group was a single quartet featuring pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones. Coltrane was featured solely on Tenor Saxophone. The piece was recorded at Van Gelder Studio. Rudy Van Gelder is regarded as the most important Jazz recording engineer of all time who had worked with other Jazz legends such as Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. This album was a representation of Coltrane’s person struggle with faith and purity, expressing his deepest gratitude for the spiritual gifts he had been given.

A Love Supreme: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU

The only recorded live performance of the “Love Supreme” suite, was from a July 26, 1965, performance at the Festival Mondial du Jazz Antibes, Juan-les-Pins, France. This performance was also remastered and released in a 2002 two-CD set by Impulse! Records with the original album and additional studio outtakes.


Falsariochicote. “1964 – John Coltrane – A Love Supreme.” YouTube. February 27, 2014. Accessed October 30, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC6cgoh1sU.

Moon, Tom. “Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane.” Music Review: ‘ A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters,’ John Coltrane. December 21, 2015. Accessed October 30, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2015/12/21/460602057/music-review-a-love-supreme-the-complete-masters-john-coltrane.

Anderson and Jackson: Voices of Hope

When slavery was abolished in 1865, it did not simply disappear overnight, rather, it evolved. Racism and Discrimination became the new form of slavery in the united states and has continued to be a pressing issue, even in 2017. The middle of the 20th century brought the beginnings of people standing up against this injustice and speaking out a message of hope for the future. Two of these people were Mahalia Jackson, and Marian Anderson. Both of them, around the same time period, used their musical influence to stand up and peacefully strive for equality.

Marian Anderson

What these two woman have in common was their use of song to make a statement against political opposition and oppression. In an article from 1939, it discusses Marian Anderson sinning American Folk Songs, as well as Gospel on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson was to have a performance at Constitution Hall in D.C. but the “Daughters of the American Revolution” (DAR) refused to allow her to perform to an integrated audience This performance was a demonstration of her strength and unwillingness to back down. Closing her performance with a performance of the spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” gave a solid stance of her strength.


Mahalia Jackson was a gospel singer who also used her voice in  a similar way to

Mahalia Jackson

Anderson. While she herself was not considered an opera singer, she was considered to be the “queen of gospel” and known as…

“the single most powerful black woman in the united states” -Harry Belafonte

In a quote from Jackson she describes her singing: “I sing God’s music because it makes me feel free”

Jackson once said about her choice of gospel, adding, “It gives me hope. With the blues, when you finish, you still have the blues.” The power to which this woman sang was an obvious representation of her pride and hope for peace. In a world where even with all of her fame she was still considered a “colored” person. To have such strength and an the attitude to fight for what you believe in so strongly is incredibly commendable and admirable. Their connection to Americana Folk music, while still sticking to their gospel traditions was their attempt to bridge the gap between races and to sing for an America that is equal and free. 


“MARIAN ANDERSON SINGS TO 75,000 IN OPEN AIR RECITAL.” 1939.The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Apr 15, 1. https://search.proquest.com/docview/492549785?accountid=351.

Thejazzsingers. “MAHALIA JACKSON PRECIOUS LORD TAKE MY HAND.” YouTube. June 18, 2009. Accessed October 17, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=as1rsZenwNc.

The Evolution of the “Cakewalk”

With its beginnings in the late 19th century, the Cakewalk has become a staple of the early African American dance culture in the United States. This style of dance first found popularity on black slave plantations came about during forms of “prize-walks” in which people would dance or “walk” to receive prizes. It is called a Cakewalk because at the end of the dance, the winning couple would be presented with a cake as a reward for their dancing efforts. This dance began as a part of minstrel shows and was exclusively danced by men until the 1890’s when women were allowed to participate. 

With this dances beginnings, it was done primarily by small ensembles of either brass or piano and banjo. This recording from the album “Rusty Rags: Ragtime, Cakewalks & Stomps” shares with us a prime example of an early cakewalk. While the original

recording date is unknown, what we can hear is an example of a simple melody and chord structure with a small brass ensemble.


An Advertisement for a Cakewalk

As this dance develops from a minstrel dance into a full fledged art form, we begin to hear transitions in its structure and instrumentation. Here is a recording by pianist Lincoln Mayorga from 1937. In this recording we have just a solo piano, but the rhythmic and harmonic structure are beginning to become more complex while still maintaining its jaunty and consistent driving motion.


In modern times, the Cakewalk is not a regularly performed, but modern interpretations have led to this style of music being continued mostly in forms of Jazz, which also has roots in black culture. A prime example of this is this recording by the Oscar Peterson Trio on their album “Nigerian Marketplace”. This takes the final evolution of the Cakewalk. This recording from 1988 keeps the same style with adding a large influenced jazz flair to the music, while still keeping the piano prominent.




Cakewalk. 1898. Prints and Photographs, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

No Cakewalk On The Program For the State Convention of Afro-American Leagues–A Haytian Lecturer’s. March 5, 1890. New York. New York, NY: NewsBank/Readex, 1890. Accessed October 9, 2017. America’s Historical Newspapers.

Rusty Rags: Ragtime, Cakewalks & Stomps. Recorded July 1, 2009. Qualiton – Saydisc, 2009, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1037073.

Pianist On Tour. Recorded October 17, 2006. TownHall Records, 2006, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1019879.

Oscar Peterson Trio: Nigerian Marketplace. Recorded January 1, 1988. Pablo, 1988, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C597035.

The Significance of Negro Spirituals

Slavery has had roots in this country almost as long as the country itself. Prior to 1865, the majority of Africans who were brought to this country were as slaves. These people were forced to labor under harsh conditions without any freedoms or graces. It was during this time where workers were allowed to sing songs and attend church, either with the gospel given by a white male, or while being supervised by a white mediator. Both in the congregation and in the fields, workers would sing songs that became known as “Negro Spirituals” to express personal feelings, and to cheer for one another.

This picture above is from the Library of Congress’ Alex Loman Collection. This picture is from a congregation at an all Black Baptist church on the Alma Plantation in False River, Louisiana 1934. This shows a small congregation that would sing these songs together to praise the lord and look for a brighter future. As well, these songs would help to give strength to those were tired and weak.

Music was such a vital part of survival for these people. Many of these black people would use and create instruments for their worship and singing times. The picture below is an example of a few instruments that were created between 1934-1950. These instruments were mostly horn-like instruments designed to use in singing and creating music together.

In 1865, Slavery was abolished. It was after this time that some African Americans were allowed to go to school to become educated. One such establishment – Fisk University, was one of the first universities for African Americans in Nashville Tennessee. It was here that the “Fisk Jubilee Singers” were founded. This group was organized in 1871 with the intention of sharing African American spirituals with the world on several tours. This group recognizes the significance of singing and performing these songs, not for fame or recognition, but rather to use their music as a lens to glimpse at what the life for these slaves could have been like and how their music affected them and their lives. The mistreatment of these people were horrid, and their music reminds us of their struggles and the raw emotion that was poured into this singing.



Lomax, Alan, photographer. Baptist congregation, Alma Plantation, False River, La. False River Louisiana United States, 1934. July. Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660048/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

[Folk Musical Instruments Including Homemade Horns]. , None. [Between 1934 and 1950] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2007660366/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

American Missionary Association, Black, James Wallace, photographer. Jubilee singers, Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn. / negative by Black. Nashville Tennessee, 1872. [Place not identified: Publisher not identified, ?] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2015650289/. (Accessed October 02, 2017.)

Fisk University Jubilee Quartet — Vocal group, Noah Walker Ryder — Bass Vocal, Alfred Garfield King — Bass Vocal, John Wesley Work II — Tenor Vocal, and J. A. Myers — Tenor Vocal. “Swing low, sweet chariot.” Browse All Recordings | Swing low, sweet chariot, Take 3 (1909-12-01) | National Jukebox LOC.gov. December 01, 1909. Accessed October 03, 2017. http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/1797.

The Misrepresentation of Native American Culture in Mass Media

In the modern day of 2017, so much of our lives are spent online. We as people have the universe at our fingertips – with so much information out there, what all can be considered trustworthy? An issue with the concept of Mass Media is that anything and everything can be found somewhere online. Anyone who is able to access the internet is able to contribute their information and knowledge. Like moths to a flame, we are instantly bound to the first bit of information we see and accept it as fact. This leads to many issues spanning across many topics. In the past few years, the concept of “Cultural Appropriation” has exploded across everywhere and everything. To be correct when describing, defining, or demonstration any form of culture is so incredibly vital that issues arise when someone does this incorrectly. With it being so easy to misappropriate a culture in Media, what are we able to trust and how does the mass media change our perception of different cultures through their ideas of appropriation?

Native American culture is found in the roots of this country’s foundation. Often, when considering American history we forget that America was populated BEFORE 18th century colonization. The culture of Native Americans is one that has been appropriated for hundreds of years, through music, art, dance, etc. Because of this, our concept of this culture has been warped by pop culture and media as demonstrated in this cartoon…

This cartoon presents the problem of misappropriation. This boy only identifies “Indians” as the overly stereotypical form displayed in movies, sports teams, or cartoons. To him, this girl who looks “normal” doesn’t fit that stereotype and thus he questions her cultural authenticity.

Another example of this kind of appropriation occurs in cartoons. One example in particular is in Seth Macfarlane’s TV cartoon comedy “Family Guy”. In the episode The Life of Brian the episode begins with Stewie and Brian running from a band of Indians in a modern day city. They explore and make racist remarks about their ways of transportation, medicine, clothing, and music.

These two clips, both from the same episode, demonstrate the racist humor that Macfarlane is demonstrating. Examples like having the doctor at the hospital stand in a bunch of poses to try to cure disease, using smoke signals instead of phones, and having their most popular song be mono-tonal unison chanting are prime examples of Native American Appropriation. This kind of appropriation Macfarlane uses can even be found in other forms of music, such as Dvorak Symphony No 9 movement 2, largo. In this movement he references Native American tribal melodies. Of course, what he notates is only a small, itemized fraction of what the actual melody would have been and what it was to represent. Was Dvorak trying specifically to be incorrect, probably not, but still – some find this use of melody an unfair representation of the true culture. 

In 2017, being able to rid our minds of ignorance and to be able to fully understand and be aware of the sensitivities of other cultures is imperative. The massed media and pop culture has shaped our minds around what being a Native American or an “Indian” means. These stereotypes are preventing us as a nation from knowing the rich and long history of Native Americans and their culture. As Russell Means says in this video: “A nation that does not know its history, has no future”


Kanke, Marie. “The Harm of Native Stereotyping.” Blue Corn Comics — The Harm of Native Stereotyping:  Facts and Evidence. August 08, 2006. Accessed September 25, 2017. http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stharm.htm.

TheUlleberg. “Family guy – Native American/Indian Radio.” YouTube. March 07, 2014. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=octtLcjJshw.

Jinpaul11. “Family Guy – Native Americans.” YouTube. May 07, 2017. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGcW3kjcFSU.

Diesillamusicae. “Dvořák: Symphony №9, “From The New World” – II – Largo.” YouTube. September 02, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASlch7R1Zvo.

Framesinmotion2007. “How Hollywood stereotyped the Native Americans.” YouTube. October 31, 2007. Accessed September 25, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_hJFi7SRH7Q.