Lil Hardin is one of the most prominent women in early jazz. By 1918, she was in demand as a pianist and arranger with jazz bands in Chicago. She later became a respected composer and bandleader. Hardin was a guiding light for her husband Louis Armstrong, and is widely credited with helping him establish himself as a solo artist.
We salute the incomparable Lil Hardin Armstrong with excerpts from a rarely heard interview recorded in the 1950s in which she talks about her life in music and her marriage to the great jazzman. The following clips are from the 1956 Riverside LP Satchmo and Me, and used with permission.
1) Lil talks about her first job, at age 15, demonstrating sheet music at a music store in Chicago. There, she meets and is inspired by the great Jelly Roll Morton.
2) While Louis is headlining at the Vendome Theater in Chicago, Lil finds a way to help him overcome his self-doubts.
3) Still a teenager, Lil is hired by the New Orleans Creole Jazz Band to be their pianist. She works out a compromise and pursues her budding musical career over her mother’s objections to her working in a “vulgar, no-good cabaret.”
4) Lil recalls listening to Louis hit “high notes” on a radio show broadcast from Sebastian’s Cotton Club in Los Angeles.
5) Shortly after Lil and Louis are married in 1924, the King Oliver Band begins to fall apart. Lil encourages her new husband to leave the band and go out on his own.
6) In June of 1931, Louis returns to New Orleans for the first time since 1922, and is billed as the “King” of trumpet players. Louis and Lil decide to go their separate ways soon after.