“Black and Blue” by Louis Armstrong
In the early twentieth century, a new style of music was being created in New Orleans. This style of music, known as Jazz, was performed with the audience in mind. It was heavily influenced by ragtime and washboard bands. Jazz is also highly competitive since the musicians wanted to stand out from the rest of the crowd. Their differences were accomplished through the use of timbres, improvisation, and many other characteristic of Jazz. Louis Armstrong’s version of “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” illustrates the characteristics of Jazz, is completely unique to his style of preference, and advocates against racial discrimination.
Louie Armstrong was also extremely talented when it came to improvisation and solos whether playing his trumpet, singing, or scatting.
The original song by musician Thomas “Fats” Waller was written for the 1929 Broadway musical “Hot Chocolates”. The song was originally intended to tell the story of how a lady lost her husband to a white woman. However; when Louis Armstrong decided to remake this song, he transformed it into an anthem of complaint and protest against the current racial discrimination. Most of the changes between the two can be noticed in the instrumental and lyrical qualities.
Instrumentally, the original by Waller was stronger piano based and the instruments were not nearly as prominent and seemed to be played more as a support for the singer instead of being an equal part in the presentation. The instruments played a secondary role in his presentation. When you do hear the instruments, they sound to be playing individually when trying to emphases or change a mood in the lyrics. In Armstrong’s version, he uses the music to tell the story. The instrumentals in the song draw the audience in with contrasting piano and trumpet interjections. The trumpet replaces the majority of the vocals. When he starts to replace lyrics with his trumpet playing, it sounds as though his vocals are matching the pattern of what the trumpet would have played.
In Armstrong’s version, the lyrical section of the song starts about midway through the song whereas in the original it starts almost immediately. The lyrics in the original version told how heartbroken this woman was. It displayed her passion on how she felt when she was left by her husband. It describes how she felt alone in the world and that her life was not worth living because of what happened after her loss. While Armstrong transforms that context into displaying discrimination. The majority of the original lyrics were cut out and what little remained was changed to show how he felt about the mistreatment happening because of his race. The original was shown to be on a more personal level where as Armstrong’s version was intended to display how the whole race was feeling. An example of this would be when Waller uses the verbiage of “what is on my face” to make an emotional connection to how the person is feeling and when Armstrong phrases it as “what is in my face” to correlate to skin color.
Many people would question whether you could consider Louis Armstrong an effective advocate for racial tolerance and equality. To most people, the answer would be yes. Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” is a perfect example of how he felt about equality and tolerance. The lyrics are powerful and you can tell that racial segregation was something in need of change.