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The Story Behind Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’

Today there’s not a person in the world who does not associate What A Wonderful World with Louis Armstrong. Read about the story behind the song.

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Louis Armstrong What A Wonderful World

“It’s been hard goddam work, man. Feel like I spent 20,000 years on the planes and railroads, like I blowed my chops off. Sure, Pops, I like the ovation, but when I’m low, beat down, wonder if maybe I hadn’t have been better off staying home in New Orleans.”

Well thank heavens Louis Armstrong didn’t stay in New Orleans and instead chose to spread the word that is jazz around the globe. Producer Bob Thiele had demo of a song that he and George Weiss had written, first he took it to Armstrong’s manager Joe Glaser and then to Louis, who was performing in Washington DC. However, Louis was not the first singer to whom he offered ‘What A Wonderful World’, history has since revealed that Tony Bennett had first of all turned the song down flat.

Louis, a man in the November of his years, was able to nail its sentiments perfectly when he recorded it in August 1967 The President of ABC-Paramount Records couldn’t have disagreed more, he virtually banned the company from putting any effort into promoting the song and in America it disappeared without trace.
Not so in Britain, where it demonstrated that you cannot keep a hot song down as it progressed steadily up the charts, reaching No.1 in the last week of April 1968 and stayed there for a month, selling well over half a million copies in the process.

Today there’s not a person in the world who does not associate ‘What A Wonderful World’ with Louis Armstrong, whether it’s because they bought it as a single, have it on one of the hundred’s of compilations it’s appeared on, heard it on the soundtrack of Good Morning Vietnam in 1988 or one of probably hundreds of adverts that have used it’s inspiring message as a sound-bed. It’s a song that familiarity has not found contemptuous, quite simply it’s one of the most uplifting, life-affirming songs of all times – and it’s all because of Louis Armstrong.

But even at this stage Louis Armstrong was a man whose health was beginning to let him down. He still kept working and did so right up until March 1971 when he had a two-week run at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. In order to get the ailing Louis through it he was booked into a suite at the Waldorf to conserve his energy.

However, within days of finishing at the Waldorf Louis was back in the Beth Israel Hospital where they performed surgery to help his breathing. Nevertheless he was soon home, working on his home recordings and creating collages for the boxes in which he kept his reel-to-reel tapes.

He was also looking forward to his seventy first birthday on 4 July. Louis throughout his life claimed this auspicious day in the American calendar as his birthday. It was only after his death that he was found to have been born on 4 August 1901.

It was on 6 July that Louis Armstrong passed away in his sleep at home in Corona; Lucille found him at 5.30 a.m. Two days later he lay in state at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Lane in New York City where 25-30,000 mourners filed past his casket. This was followed by a funeral at the Corona Congregational Church at 34th Avenue and 103d Street the next day. Everyone from Jazz was there; Peggy Lee sang the Lords Prayer, after which he Louis taken to be buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, just a few miles from his home.

“I never tried to prove nothing, just always wanted to give a good show. My life has been my music, it’s always come first, but the music ain’t worth nothing if you can’t lay it on the public. The main thing is to live for that audience, ’cause what you’re there for is to please the people.”

Louis Armstrong’s The Complete Decca Singles 1935-1946 digital compilation is available here

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29 Comments

29 Comments

  1. Michael

    July 6, 2014 at 10:43 am

    I will always remember this song from 1967 when i first heard it in the U.K on ‘Top of The Pops’ at the age of 9, it seemed to be an oasis of emotion among all the psychedelic rock of the time

  2. Dawn Goodwin

    July 6, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    “What a wonderful world”, is a song that means so much to my family, Louis was one of my Dad`s favourites, (and my 4 siblings and I grew up loving Louis also) and he requested this song to be played at his funeral, We complied with our Dad`s wishes.
    It does not matter how many people try to sing this song, it does not work for them, this song was for Louis only. Louis you will always part of Our wonderful world, God Bless you and your wonderful loving family xxx

    • Stephen

      July 6, 2015 at 10:56 pm

      My father also loved Satchmo and requested What a Wonderful World be played at his funeral, Dad lived by the spirit of this song and even though he’s been dead almost ten years, I still become emotional every time I hear it played

  3. Adrian Pereira

    July 6, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    God Bless You Louis Armstrong Cause You’ve Inspired My Life.

  4. Jones Lemnge Moshi

    July 7, 2014 at 5:25 am

    I love Louis Armstrong Satchmo

  5. Jones Lemnge

    July 7, 2014 at 8:55 am

    The song will not lose its taste..No one will or can sing “What a wonderful world “like Louis Armstrong.

  6. Bobby Weiss

    July 8, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    Bob may have shown the song to Tony Bennett as well, but I can tell you that ‘World’ was written specifically for Louis. My dad, George David Weiss was inspired to write it by what he considered all of Louis’ humanitarian work around the globe. And he knew that that special voice would be unmatched in delivering the message the song brings.

    • Stephen Bourassa

      August 24, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Bobby ~

      Great to hear that from you. It helps the legend retain it’s integrity… and we all want that. That song was LOUIS and nobody else.

      We hope to do a Louis Armstrong celebration in 2015 and, of course, would like to include that piece, although it’s never the same when someone else sings it. I think many of us see the other vocalists but hear Louis in the back of our minds.

      Best,
      Stephen

      • Bobby Weiss

        August 25, 2014 at 3:21 pm

        You got it, Stephen. Dad loved and respected Louis. There’s a great story about him calling and waking up Lucille to tell her about the song he just heard that he planned on recording. When dad eventually met her she said to him, “It’s a lovely song Mr. Weiss, but did Louis have to wake me up in the middle of the night to tell me about it?” Lol

  7. Joy Carter

    July 8, 2014 at 11:45 pm

    Great respect for this mn, hisntlent, and his legacy. My 15, 12,& 5 year old kids love his music, which to me proves it to be timeless gold. I enjoyed watching the Ken Burns documentary on Jazz and would love to see a modern movie made on Mr. Armstrong’s life. Recently actor Tracey Morgan has been in the news following that horrific accident. Upon seeing a photo posted with an update on his status, it struck me that he very much favors the Great Satchmo, and might be a great fit to play the part. Just wishful thinking on my part, but the soundtrack could be fantastic while sharing the gift of this mans talent with a new generation. Fingers crossed :0)

  8. Dame McKnight

    July 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I love you Louis! I have a right to sing the blues too! Sing it for me.

  9. Bea Killian

    August 24, 2014 at 5:23 am

    I had the great privilege of meeting THE man and his wife in Las Vegas around 1963, and he was so very gracious and kind….I was trembling! His music will always stir my emotions and awe.

  10. Michele Latta

    August 25, 2014 at 3:42 am

    My late uncle, Art Pilkington of Toronto, had an extensive collection of Louis’ recordings, including reel to reels and records given to him as gifts. He’d had the chance to meet Louis on several occassions. He always enjoyed Louis’ music.

    Lous was a true gift to the world. To this day, Wonderful World will bring me to tears with its simplicity of true joy. No one could have expressed that joy better than Louis.

  11. Jimmy

    August 25, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Joey Ramones did a great cover of this song . It lead me to love jazz after learning of the songs Origen ,Mr Armstrong was an amazing person . It is funny how generations can learn from past ones if they choose to .

  12. Jerry Aschermann

    August 27, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    Louis Armstrong was a man who did much for race relations in the US… he did it in a quiet manner. He was a black man that white men/women could look up to and admire. Over the years Louis stepped on jagged glass and had to go through many barbed wire fences; but, he remained as a man that was moving his people upward. Cheers to Louis and all the people associated with him….. do wish that I could play like him. 🙂

  13. Daya

    September 1, 2014 at 3:29 am

    Great people leave great gifts for the world when they leave. “It’s a wonderful world” is a one.

  14. Gary Stell

    January 12, 2015 at 4:55 am

    A Wonderful World is certainly one of thos iconic, unforgettable songs that draws upon our memories and emotions! Louis – Rembrandt of music!

  15. Rebecca

    March 15, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    R.I.P to my soulmate Ian xx love you poppet,xx

  16. Eileen

    April 13, 2015 at 10:13 pm

    My late husband was a Louis Armstrong man so we had him carried into WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD at his funeral.
    It stills brings tears 7 years on but it was my way of honouring a WONDERFUL husband of 54 years. RIP My Darling Billxx

  17. Mitzi

    July 6, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Louis is the reason I started playing the trumpet at the age of 12. I still play to this day and composed my first jazz song. I love What A Wonderful World but have mixed feelings about the message because after September 11th, 2001, I don’t see the world as wonderful. I see it as evil as long as there are some evil people in it. I always say since 9/11 that the world would be wonderful if there were no people in it. I do like the message of the song and love the song so much I learned to play it by ear. I agree that no one can sing it like Louis but Joey Ramone’s version was awesome and so was many others like the late BB King, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Nice Cave, and many others. Louis was a great man and a legend. I love him so much I named my Trumpet Louis and my Cornet Little Louis.

  18. Mitzi

    July 6, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Louis is the reason I started playing the trumpet at the age of 12. I still play to this day and composed my first jazz song. I love What A Wonderful World but have mixed feelings about the message because after September 11th, 2001, I don’t see the world as wonderful. I see it as evil as long as there are some evil people in it. I always say since 9/11 that the world would be wonderful if there were no people in it. I do like the message of the song and love the song so much I learned to play it by ear. I agree that no one can sing it like Louis but Joey Ramone’s version was awesome and so was many others like the late BB King, Lionel Hampton, Tony Bennett, Nice Cave, and many others. Louis was a great man and a legend. I love him so much I named my Trumpet Louis and my Cornet Little Louis.

  19. Mitzi

    July 6, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    Nick Cave I mean…not “Nice Cave”..lol.

  20. Mitzi

    July 6, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    Nick Cave I mean..not nice cave. Stupid cell phone.

  21. Ben Bouzid

    July 7, 2015 at 2:01 am

    Louis Armstrong, pour moi, est non seulement Rembrandt de la musique mais Picasso du message de WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD !!!!! Ecouter Louis Armstrong et le voir “caresser” sa trompette me fait chavirer de plaisir et me dire, que cet homme de couleur a fait taire les antiblack …
    ElKader Ben Bouzid

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