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Louis Armstrong and Lil Hardin were as different as two people could be. She was outgoing and sophisticated. He was a country bumpkin. She was ambitious and had a good head for business. He didn’t care about making money. All he wanted to do was play his horn.
She could see him as a star with his name in lights. He thought she was just plain crazy." But by the time she’d convinced him that she was right, they’d changed the face of jazz. Who knows if Louis Armstrong’s genius would have touched the world as it did without the tireless effort and steadfast vision of Lil Hardin Armstrong?
Working in a scene dominated by men, Lil Hardin was one of the most sought-after jazz pianists on the South Side of Chicago in the early '20s. She was playing piano in King Oliver's Creole Orchestra when Oliver sent for Louis to move up from New Orleans and play second cornet in his ground-breaking jazz band.
It wasn’t love at first sight for Lil. She only started to notice Louis after King Oliver pointed out that Louis was the better player of the two. Lil and Louis tied the knot on February 5, 1924 and their honeymoon was spent on tour with Oliver's band.
You can hear additional interview clips with Lil Hardin Armstrong here.
Lil Hardin Armstrong is credited with persuading Louis to pursue a solo career, leave King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, and 1924 join Fletcher Henderson's band at the Roseland Ballroom in New York.
Lil was a major contributor to Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. She played piano, sang occasionally, and composed several major tunes, including Struttin' with Some Barbecue" and My Heart."
Night after night, Louis Armstrong was in the spotlight—entertaining bigger and bigger crowds with his endless charm—and playing his heart out on trumpet. He was swept along on the tide of his enormous talent. Lil Hardin always had her feet on the ground, calculating their next move. She said she often imagined herself standing out of sight at the bottom of a ladder, holding it steady for Louis as he rose to stardom.
Though their marriage ended in 1931, they remained friends—their partnership reflected forever in the body of work they created together.