I love MJ, but I believe Louis Armstrong should be given as much praise, if not more than MJ. Pops was the Original King of Pop. And for clarification, I didn’t flat-out say Pops deserved more praise than MJ, but he is definitely deserving of as much if not more. I’m not discrediting Michael’s accomplishments, I’m just saying Armstrong is the progenitor of the Black, Pop aesthetic. The Black, Pop aesthetic is the American Pop aesthetic.
So-called “JAZZ” was the world’s first popular music. That’s why the ’20s was dubbed “The Jazz Age.” There were others before him, but Pops was its 1st star.
Of course, Paul WhiteMan was dubbed “The King of Jazz,” but that was a farce. He, like the Original Dixieland Jass Band, are pretty much insignificant in the true scope of American Popular music.
A Matter Of Black and White
Satchmo’s white handkerchief came decades before MJ’s white glove. #DontGetItTwisted #mfcomn
And you think MJ invented the high-water pant with white socks?
Pops did that first too!
No insult to Michael, but the Black Pop icon didn’t really exist before Armstrong. To all those people who love to pretend like Michael just sprang-up out of nowhere, he is not the Immaculate Conception of Pop Music. And there is absolutely nothing reductive about saying that Michael Jackson is a part of the continuum that Armstrong started.
Face The Music
Louis Armstrong was the 1st face of popular Black music, i.e., Pop music, almost 40 years before Michael Jackson was born. I’m not saying Pops was more impactful because he was born before Michael, but because of his specific contributions to the interpretation of the American Popular song.
Michael was indeed a genius, but I’ll have to admit, his job was much easier because the road had already been paved by the likes of Pops, Fred Astaire, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.
I’m not one for superlatives, but Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings are the most influential records in Pop music. More influential than the Beatles or Michael Jackson put together. On those sides, he developed the whole idea of the virtuoso vocal and instrumental soloist in the Pop idiom. It was his voice that shaped what would become the Popular song.
The Hipness of The Heebies
One of the keys to Michael’s greatness was his skill of interpreting the Pop song. He made this clear very on with his first solo Pop hit Ben. His scatting and ad-libs were also a part of his genius. When people ask me why is Michael a genius, I tell them to check out his outro to The Lady In My Life. That is a page right out of Satchmo’s book. From 2:40 on is pure magic! #BAM
Pops was the first to scat on record. The last couple of seconds even has a Hiphop moment at 2:40.
Baby Dodds : The World’s 1st Funk Drummer
Most people don’t know this but Armstrong’s drummer, Warren “Baby” Dodds was instrumental in developing what would become the drum set. Before him, people played a selection of “traps” or individual components like cymbals, bells, woodblocks and the like. He formulated those “traps” into an actual kit which is the drum set you often see today. He was also a pioneer in changing the military conception of drum playing to the more triplet-infused, 3 over 4, swing/funk style with the emphasis on the backbeat as opposed to the One.
Baby was also partially responsible for inventing the hi-hat cymbal. William F. Ludwig caught a gig of Baby’s on a cruise ship and saw him patting his foot on the floor. This inspired Ludwig to create a foot operated cymbal for Baby. Irony is, Baby hated it!
It was in Armstrong’s band that he also developed the drum’s first conception of timbral accompaniment behind different soloists. He developed a style of playing that was tailored to each individual soloist as opposed to just “keeping time” behind everyone. He also developed the rimshot (playing the rim of the drums) which he might employ behind Pops’ vocals, then switch to a cymbal under his brother, Johnny Dodds’ clarinet solos and so forth.
Timbral listening is part of what shaped what would become “The Rhythm Section” (chordal instrument, bass and drums). The rhythm section is New Orleans’ gift to the world. It didn’t exist before these cats. The rhythm section is the backbone of Popular music. Without Baby Dodds and them, there would be no “Funk Brothers.”
The New Standard
Armstrong is not as popular, but he is just as accomplished, if not more than MJ. There was no standard before Pops. Reach and historical significance are not the same. I’m not questioning MJ’s popularity. No one’s more famous than Michael.
Michael did not invent the moonwalk, he popularized it. It was originally called “the backslide.” The moonwalk is an entirely different dance. Mike did the hell out of it though. Check out Jeffery Daniels (Soul Train, Shalamar). There’s that white glove again! This performance predates Michael’s classic Motown 25 performance by about a year.
Michael was a King, indeed, but King Oliver was a King long before and King Oliver begat Louis, the Original King of Pop. Just because MJ’s the most popular artist doesn’t mean he’s more historically significant than everyone.
Historical significance is not contingent on praise.
Video Killed The Radio Star
MJ broke the color barrier on MTV, but Pops broke the color barrier, period.
The phonograph was to Louis Armstrong as the music video was to Michael Jackson. Prime time. The new medium allowed them both unprecedented levels of popularity. They also had a new sound that matched the new medium. Divine timing had it so that they gave merit to the medium and the medium gave their voices a worldwide platform. The last new dominant medium was the Internet. The thing with the Internet is no one can dominate it because anyone can be a star.
Will there be another big star like Pops or MJ? As always, it’s part chance, part skills. The bigger issue is: Do people care anymore? Mothafuckas are emotionally numb.
There have only been 4 or 5 generations of people impacted by MJ as opposed to the dozen or so impacted by Satchmo. MJ was great, but people seem to be sleeping on the fact that James Brown was his archetype.
Most people don’t even know the many ways Louis Armstrong has influenced their lives. That said, many don’t know Thomas Edison invented the motion picture, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying the movies.
Impact is not contingent upon recognition. Most of these people who only go back as far as MJ suck. They have no roots. Don’t think it ain’t possible for people to forget MJ just like they have Satchmo. As Buddy Rich said, “It’s very fucking possible!”
MJ Redefined Pop Culture, Pops Started It
I’m not saying MJ didn’t break new ground, but Armstrong had just as much impact, if not more. “Pop” music began in America. There was no world Pop music before it. There were only indigenous forms. It is the advent of the phonograph that allowed there to be a world Pop music. It brought the world together. There was also this “wild,” new, Black music from New Orleans that coincided with the new technology.
Louis Armstrong was the authentic face of the world’s first Pop aesthetic. He is the architect of the Pop song. Satchmo was the one to galvanize all of these seemingly disparate elements into a singular force of Pop art. Pops singlehandedly refined the art of the improvised solo and created the idea of a “Soul” singer. Pops also redefined the idea of where to place the “beat” in this music. That “feel” didn’t exist before him.
As a result, he influenced every musician in the Popular music idiom either directly or indirectly. Michael influenced more people, but Louis was more influential. There was less “new” territory to discover musically by the time MJ came along.
A True American Idol
Bing Crosby said of Armstrong – “He is the beginning and the end of music in America.” I agree. Louis Armstrong was the most important and influential musician of the 20th century. The Original King of Pop. Popularity and musical influence are two different things. The most influential people are not necessarily the most popular.
Anybody can win a popularity contest, but to influence music requires specific contributions to the advancement of an artform. No person has ever been as popular as MJ, in that sense he is the indisputable “King of Pop,”
but Pop music’s king is Louis Armstrong.
- Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop