Louis Armstrong's career inaugurated the commercial viability of jazz for five decades. It also created both the structural conditions and critical reception that allowed jazz to emerge into a “classical” art form, still in the process of reshaping itself today. Armstrong's life, however, has often been inadequately comprehended and derogated despite evidence to the contrary. From the distance of four decades since his death, Armstrong can be seen as a uniquely self-directed man whose artistic authority and self-confidence were continuously under siege from multiple sources without diminishing his life, his art, or his legacy as an iconoclastic, genuinely transitional figure in the emergence of twentieth-century culture. His status as the first Global Citizen, representing his race and his country, is augmented by his anomalous “postracial” identity as a representative of human good will and the (imperfectly defined) human capacity for open and transcendent radiance of consciousness beyond metonymic identities. His example of joyful creativity offers a propaedeutic advantage for the incommensurable secularity of emerging humanistic work intersecting with increasingly technologically mediated scientific explorations of “knowing” as well as of consciousness and its cosmic metascape.
Jim Merod; Biography as Erasure: Louis Armstrong's Radical Light. boundary 2 1 August 2011; 38 (3): 165–215. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01903659-1430863
Download citation file: