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Louis Armstrong: The Boy From Back O’ Town’s Birthday

Louis Armstrong’s birthday has been the source of much confusion over the years. We sort the myth from the fact to celebrate Satchmo.

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Louis Armstrong Live In 1959 - Susanne Schapowalow
Photo Credit: Susanne Schapowalow

“Louis Armstrong, who was born July 4th 1900, the Back O’ Town section (Jane alley) in New Orleans.”

This was according to Louis Armstrong himself in the opening line of a book about his life that he wrote in 1969; admittedly not simply a straight forward narrative journey from his birth in the Crescent City to his red brick home in Queens, New York. It was also a series of moralistic homilies.

The only problem with what he wrote was that he got one vital thing wrong – the date of his birth. He was, significantly, neither born on Independence Day or in the opening year of the twentieth century. Yet Louis himself believed that he was for all of his life and celebrated every July 4th along with the rest of America, although they were mostly celebrating Independence Day.

It was almost two decades after Armstrong passed away that the truth about his birth was discovered. Someone looking at the baptismal records of a Catholic church in New Orleans discovered the truth. He was born on 4 August 1901, the son of “a handsome” nineteen year old William (Willie) Armstrong and Mary Ann Albert, who was known as May Ann.

Willie worked in a chemical factory while Louis’s mother was a fifteen year old who worked as a domestic servant having moved to the city from the nearby countryside to find work. Another thing that Louis did not know was that he was baptised a Catholic. What Louis did know was that his father had left his mother for another woman by the time he was baptised.

Did Louis Armstrong know his true birth date? It seems unlikely, but how come he picked on July 4th 1900 – apart than the obvious patriotic connection and the fact that somehow 1900 sounds a lot better than 1901. It was fashionable among poor Black Americans to adopt honorary birthdays, which seemed to give them a firmer sense of place, and this may well explain such a significant date of birth.

Today when you search the internet you will find both days given as his birthday, depending which article you read or so called definitive source; for a long time Wikipedia carried the 4th July 1900 date. Whatever his date of birth young Louis grew up at 723 Jane Alley, a stones throw from the French Quarter of New Orleans, the area that was central to the birth of jazz, a vibrant, buzzing, bawdy area that was so important in shaping his life and career.

Louis Armstrong’s The Complete Decca Singles 1935-1946 digital compilation is available here. Explore our dedicated Louis Armstrong Artist Page.

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31 Comments

31 Comments

  1. Michael Waters

    August 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm

    There is no apostrophe in Queens, New York.

    • Mo

      August 4, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      Nor is 1900 the opening year of the twentieth century; it was the last year of the nineteenth century.

      • uDiscover

        August 5, 2014 at 11:58 am

        Sorry, Mo, you are wrong there. The 1900s are the 20th century

        • Lauren

          October 28, 2014 at 6:04 am

          Actually, Mo is right. The counting didn’t start in year 0, it started in year 1. Therefore, the first century was 1-100, not 0-99. The 2nd century would have been 101-200, 3rd century was 201-300, and so on and so forth. The 20th century was 1901-2000. 1900 was the last year in the 18th century.

        • Roger Sampson

          July 5, 2015 at 8:52 pm

          “Actually he is correct. The year 1900 is the last year of the 19th century. The 20th century started in 1901. Just like the 21st century started in 2001. The Romans started counting first with the number one”

        • Armand

          August 4, 2015 at 9:04 am

          No, he’s correct. 1900 was the last year of the 19th century – why – because there never was a year zero.

      • Dcj

        August 5, 2015 at 9:57 am

        Bravo.

    • uDiscover

      August 5, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Thanks, Michael, corrected!

    • Capt South T. Lynn

      July 6, 2015 at 12:44 am

      They tend to drop the possessive apostrophe 50 years or so after original use.

  2. Sandra Kaye

    August 4, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Who said it was?

  3. Colleen

    August 4, 2014 at 10:35 pm

    According to the tour guides at his Queens, NY house, his mother thought she heard fireworks outside the night he was born. As it turns out, they were actually gunshots.

  4. Jazzlunatique

    August 4, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    That someone who discover the baptismal record was a great researcher and musicologist named Tad Jones

    • Bill Malone

      July 5, 2015 at 12:05 pm

      I knew Tad Jones. Great guy and great researcher.

    • Reginald Jackson

      August 4, 2015 at 10:11 pm

      Baptismal birth records were actually more accurate than city or town records in those days.

    • Reginald Jackson

      August 4, 2015 at 10:15 pm

      Baptismal birth records were actually more accurate than city and town records in those days anyway.

  5. Joanne E. N. Rameka

    August 4, 2014 at 11:35 pm

    First of all Louis Armstrong, brilliant actor, brilliant entertainer, and a brilliant man, when he was born, is of no consequences, he is born, and on this earth, for 1 reason, TO LIVE, thankyou Mr and Mrs Armstrong. He did. Brilliantly.

  6. Marci CAHOON

    August 5, 2014 at 6:25 am

    Is THAT all you got out of that article? Grammar and definitions? Sad!

  7. bnh

    August 5, 2014 at 7:44 am

    The 0 year is always the first year of the century…just as it was in the 1st century

    • Norris

      August 5, 2014 at 9:22 am

      Except there was no year 0. The calendar starts at 1AD.

  8. Bob "Hubba Jubba" Moss

    August 5, 2014 at 11:06 am

    I am eternally grateful to the person posting this tribute to Louis Armstrong, because it appeared directly under a post I shared, only to find out the connecting information was missing. But now my face book friends will be able to enjoy far more information than I could have ever shared with them. THANKS AGAIN!

    • uDiscover

      August 5, 2014 at 11:59 am

      Thanks, Bob, much appreciated

  9. DJ

    August 5, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I have to second the correction on 1900 – that is the last day of the 19th century, the 20th century starts on 1/1/1901. The 1900’s run from 1900 to 1999, and is not the same timeline as the 20th century. A good rule of thumb to remember is that the century ends the year it is named for – 18th century ends 1800, 19th century ends 1900, and on. All of this because there was no year Zero/Zed when the new calendar was adopted.

  10. Paul-Emile Chenois

    July 5, 2015 at 4:10 pm

    Some books say that Louis declared himself one year older to be eligible for military service.

  11. witz

    July 5, 2015 at 6:51 pm

    The FBI – americas pre-eminant investigative authority – lists Louis’ birthday as july 4, 1900.

  12. Valeria

    August 4, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    really it doesn’t really matter to me the effective birth date..he was a great musician and person above all..can anyone tell me titles of books about his story?
    Thanx

  13. adansa

    August 4, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    Une très belle voix immortelle

  14. Who dat Greg

    August 4, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    The part I didn’t like about the comment of his queens red brick house was the way they talked up living In New York like it was moving from the shit of New Orleans to fancy brick New York. I’d much rather live a life near or in the French quarter than to step a foot in the big rotten apple

  15. Ventura

    July 20, 2016 at 5:28 am

    I live his music I wish he was making music in this century.

  16. Jacqui Lindfors

    August 5, 2016 at 1:55 am

    I met Louis Armstrong 1962 Sun Valley, Idaho. Wonderful , Sweet , Talented Musician.

  17. Ken Steiner

    August 5, 2016 at 3:31 am

  18. JP

    September 19, 2017 at 5:54 am

    Hi,
    I was wondering if you know the name of Louis Armstrong’s song about his life that he sings over the music of the saint go marching in. I had it on an old cd but can’t find it anymore. Thanks

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