Armstrong [née Hardin], Lil(lian)
- Chris Albertson
(b Memphis, TN, Feb 3, 1898; d Chicago, IL, Aug 27, 1971). American jazz pianist, singer, bandleader, and composer. She studied keyboard privately from an early age and had hopes of becoming a concert pianist. While she was enrolled at Fisk University, her mother and stepfather moved to Chicago, where in 1917 she took a job as a sheet music demonstrator, which led to her joining the Original Creole Jazz Band as its pianist. It was her first job playing jazz and she decided not to return to Fisk. She subsequently worked with several bands, including King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with which she performed in San Francisco in 1921 and made her recording debut in 1923. By this time the band included louis Armstrong, whom she married in 1924. Armstrong’s place in jazz history was assured by her participation on Oliver’s Gennett recordings and Louis’ Hot Five sessions for Okeh. She played an important role in Louis’ move into a brighter spotlight before their separation in 1931. For the next two decades Armstrong toured with her own bands, billed early on as “Mrs Louis Armstrong and her Orchestra.” In the late 1930s she recorded for Decca and eventually became the label’s house pianist. In the 1940s she attended and graduated from a school for men’s tailoring, but soon returned to music. Armstrong worked as a solo act and with small groups in the United States and Europe throughout the 1950s. She recorded occasionally during the same period and made her last, in Chicago, in 1961, although she contined to perform for another ten years. Armstrong’s compositions include “Struttin’ with some Barbecue,” a Louis Armstrong classic that became a Dixieland perennial, and “Just for a Thrill,” which Ray Charles revived and turned into a hit in 1959.
As a leader
Lil Hardin Armstrong (1961, Fantasy OJCCD)
As a sideman with Louis Armstrong
Hot Fives and Sevens (1925, JSP)
- L.H. Armstrong and R.S. Greene: “Satchmo and Me,” American Music, 25/1 (2007), 106–18
- J.J. Taylor: “With Lovie and Lil: Rediscovering Two Chicago pianists of the 1920s,” Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies, eds. N.T. Rustin and S. Tucker (Durham, NC, 2008), 48–63
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- “Just for a Thrill.” Lil Armstrong, composer and soloist. Let's Call It Love (Future Noise Music Ltd.: 2008). Audio. <http://muco.alexanderstreet.com/view/984453>