Song of the Day for August 4: 'What a Wonderful World' with Louis Armstrong
Baby boomers remember the twilight of Louis Armstrong’s long career, the “Hello Dolly” portion. But Armstrong, who was born August 4, 1901 in New Orleans, was a jazz legend decades earlier.
Armstrong grew up in a neighborhood known as the Battlefield. He was 7 when he, his mother and sister were taken in by immigrants from Lithuania. The family helped him buy his first cornet.
He was arrested in 1912 for firing a gun in the air on New Year’s Eve and sent to a place called the “Colored Waif’s Home for Boys.” He joined their band and caught the attention of local musicians. He later started making money by playing in riverboat bands.
Then it was on to Chicago. New York. And international stardom.
Armstrong broke racial barriers early in his career, but was criticized by some African-Americans during the Civil Rights movement., especially when he became a goodwill ambassador for the U.S. State Department
Armstrong recorded Our Song of the Day in 1967. Unfortunately, the song flopped in the U.S.
Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote “What a Wonderful World.” They hoped it might bring racial harmony if Armstrong sang it. But the president of ABC Records disliked the song and wouldn’t promote it. Less than 1,000 copies were sold in the U.S.
The song, however, was a hit in England. It reached number one and make Armstrong the oldest performer to have a number one hit in the U.K. He was 66.
The song made a comeback in the U.S. after it was used in the movie “Good Morning, Vietnam.” The song reached 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988. “What a Wonderful World” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.
Song of the Day is a co-production with Sheldon Zoldan and WGCU Public Media. Audio edited by Simon Dunham.