Lil Hardin Armstrong, 1898-1971

  • Lil-Hardin-Armstrong-WWP

Woman Category: MusicWoman Tags: African-American Women, Composer, and Singer

  • HerStory

    A pianist, composer, arranger, and bandleader. One of the first prominent female instrumentalists in early jazz.

    Lillian Hardin was born in 1898 in Memphis, raised by her mother who was a maid. In her childhood, she started playing with a found harmonium and an imaginary piano. Her mother paid for her music classes, later sending her to Fisk University. Armstrong’s mother objected to “the evils” of jazz and blues, but those were irresistible to Lil when the family moved to the musical hub of Chicago in 1918. She found a job at a music store and started playing with local bands.
    Lil Hardin grew to be a sought-after musician, playing piano, composing, and arranging. Nicknamed “Hot Miss Lil” she occupied a unique position in the male-dominated 1920s jazz world. When she met trumpeter Louis Armstrong, she was more established and contributed to building his career towards world fame. After 14 years of marriage, they drew apart, but stayed in professional friendship.
    Lil continued with her musical career – singing swing, leading eight bands, two of them all-female bands, and appearing on Broadway. She also studied in a tailoring school to be a fashion designer, taught French, and opened a restaurant in Chicago, called Lil Armstrong’s Swing Shack.
    Hardin Armstrong died from a heart attack on stage while playing the piano in Louis Armstrong Memorial Concert in Chicago Civic Center Plaza.

    “I never was going to be a big star, but I always was a star, a little star, up there in the sky twinkling”

    “I never was going to be a big star, but I always was a star, a little star, up there in the sky twinkling”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Both she and Luis Armstrong were married when they met and had to get divorced before marrying each other.
    • Her 1924 honeymoon with Luis Armstrong was a performing tour of Pennsylvania.
    • At the age of 54, she traveled to Paris and played jazz there.
    • Seven years after her death, a song she composed “Brown Gal” was re-recorded by Ringo Starr as “Bad Boy” and became a hit.
    • She had no children, and her drafts for an autobiography were left unfinished.
    • A park in Chicago was named in her honor.
  • More About Her Legacy
    Creations By and About Her:

    * Books about her
    * CDs of her music


    * Women of Achievement, 2016, Heritage (Memphis )

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  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Lil Hardin Armstrong - Bluer Than Blue 1937

    4-15-1937 - Decca 1299 A
    Vocal Chorus by Lil Armstrong - Written By Lil Hardin Armstrong And Avon Long
    Original Singer - Songwriter Of This Song.
    Many Artists have covered her great song.
    This Is The Old Jazz Version, not to be confused with the 1978 song of the same title.
    Lil Hardin Armstrong (February 3, 1898 -- August 27, 1971) was a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, singer, and bandleader, and the second wife of Louis Armstrong with whom she collaborated on many recordings in the 1920s.
    When louis Armstrong died, in 1971, Hardin was deeply shaken by the loss. She traveled to New York for the funeral and rode in the family car. "I think Louis would have found a way getting back at me if I hadn't put Hardin in that car", his widow, Lucille, told Albertson. Returning to Chicago, Hardin felt that work on her autobiography could now continue, but the following month, performing at a televised memorial concert for Louis, Lil Hardin Armstrong collapsed at the piano. She died an hour later, aged 73.In the aftermath of her funeral, her letters and the unfinished manuscript of her autobiography disappeared from her house.
    Lil Hardin-Armstrong was the most prominent woman in early jazz. She played piano, composed, and arranged for most of the important Hot Bands from New Orleans. While working at a music store in Chicago, she was invited to play with Sugar Johnny's Creole Orchestra, from there she went to Freddie Keppard's Original Creole Orchestra, and then led her own band at the Dreamland Cafe at 3520 South State Street in Chicago. In 1921 she joined King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band where she met Louis Armstrong. They were married in 1924. Lil was Louis Armstrong's second wife and she is generally credited with persuading Louis to be more ambitious, and leave King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Lil was a major contributor to Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. She played piano and sang occasionally, and composed several of the groups major songs, including "Struttin' with Some Barbeque." Lil was the leader of several other recording groups, including Lil's Hot Shots and the New Orleans Wanderers. She and Louis were separated in 1931 and were divorced in 1938, although they remained friends for life. Lil appeared in several Broadway shows including "Hot Chocolates" and "Shuffle Along". In the late 1930s Lil recast herself as a Swing vocalist and cut 26 vocal sides for Decca records. In the 1940s she moved back to Chicago and played as a soloist in nightclubs. She continued to record sporadically up until 1963, often with the old gang of New Orleans/Chicago musicians like Johnny Dodds, Red Allen, Zutty Singleton, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, Lonnie Johnson, Buster Bailey, Natty Dominque, Lovie Austin, and Sidney Bechet. Lil kept active in the music business for the rest of her life, although far from the limelight. Strangely enough, Lil died while taking part in a Louis Armstrong Memorial Concert in Chicago while playing "St. Louis Blues", just two months after Louis had died.
    Now, I'm singing a blue song, much bluer than blue,
    I lost a friend I thought good and true,
    Without anyone in
    Since yesterday morning,
    I'm queen of the blues.

    Now, my eyes are all glassy, but I ain't had a drink,
    Spent twenty-four hours just tryin' to think;
    Why did he leave me?
    Why did he leave me?
    Oooh, bluer than blue.

    He's like a disease,
    Makes you green,
    Lose all ambition, have run down condition;
    My mind's insane,
    My heart's aflame,
    I miss him so,
    Oh, yes, I know!

    No other love song will I ever sing,
    Blues in my heart will always ring,
    Why did he leave me?
    Why did he leave me?
    Oooh, bluer than blue.

    Why did he leave me?
    Why did he leave me?
    Oooh, bluer than blue.

  • Lil Hardin Armstrong in 1943. Photo credit - Wikipedia.