Louis & Family

To Louis Armstrong, family meant everything. From his band members to his actual family members, those who were close to Louis experienced his warmth and generosity. It did not matter if he had not seen you in a long period of time, Louis always greeted people that he knew with happiness and joy. In this time of uncertainty, we all hold our family closer to our hearts and looking at Louis’ closest relationships give us a picture of his personality and outlook on life. 

Photo provided by: Louis Armstrong Archives

One of the most important people in Louis’ life was his nephew Clarence. Clarence Armstrong was born to Louis’ cousin Flora in 1915, who later passed away. As a young boy Clarence suffered a head injury that left him mentally disabled and needing care for the rest of his life. Louis took on the responsibility of being a parent to Clarence even as his career began to rise. Louis’ dedication to Clarence sometimes caused tension in his marriages. His second wife, Lillian Hardin, did not like Clarence and this caused tension between Louis and Lil throughout their marriage. Armstrong’s other 3 wives embraced Clarence and helped Louis take care of him. Louis was on the road for most of his career and could not be hands-on with Clarence’s care and as a result Clarence was sent to live in a care facility when he got older. Although Louis could not take care of Clarence, he made sure that all of Clarence’s needs were taken care of. Louis’ dedication to Clarence demonstrated his love and loyalty to family.

Louis was also very close to each of his wives, who had a large impact on his life in different ways. Armstrong was married four times, and each marriage coincided with important moments in his life. His first marriage was to a local woman in New Orleans named Daisy Parker in 1919 who helped to take care of Clarence, the marriage ended in 1923. While Louis was married to Daisy his career in New Orleans was starting to grow and ultimately the end of his marriage was also the beginning of his career outside New Orleans. In 1924 Armstrong married Lillian Hardin, a pianist with King Oliver, who shared the bandstand with Louis. Hardin is credited with inspiring Louis to pursue a solo career and leave King Oliver’s band. Louis and Lil’s marriage ended with accusations of cheating and busy work schedules. It took many years for Louis and Lil to officially get a divorce, but they eventually did in 1938. Even though Lil and Louis did not work out, without her he would not have the push to be a solo artist and become the Louis Armstrong we know today. Soon after Louis married Alpha Smith, an admirer, until 1942 when they divorced. It was Louis’s last marriage to Lucille Armstrong in 1942 that made the most impact. Lucille purchased a home for her and Louis in Corona and they lived there until their deaths. What Lucille provided was stability and a home life that Louis had not experienced since he was a boy. Louis was a traveling man and knowing that he had a home to go to after a long tour was comforting, especially as he grew older and had more health issues. Lucille was also his longest marriage which is no accident. Her dedication to Louis’ legacy prompted her to make their home a National Historic Landmark in 1971 to start the process of it becoming a museum. 

Louis gave and received love in many ways. Outside of his family members he was always generous with those who he encountered. Whenever he saw someone who was low on money or needed help he was willing to step up. One example of this is during the Great Depression, when he purchased coal for people in a neighborhood in Baltimore after hearing that they were struggling to stay warm during the winter. Another example is the various stories of Louis giving away trumpets to others, since he believed that he did not need so many. Louis also gave money to those who asked or did not ask, he just wanted to give back. The generosity that Louis had was a testament to Louis’ commitment to those around him and how much he appreciated them. 

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