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Lil Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971)

Lil Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971)

Lil Hardin-Armstrong was the most prominent woman in early jazz. She played piano, composed, and arranged for most of the important Hot Bands from New Orleans.

While working at a music store in Chicago, she was invited to play with Sugar Johnny’s Creole Orchestra, from there she went to Freddie Keppard’s Original Creole Orchestra, and then led her own band at the Dreamland Cafe at 3520 South State Street in Chicago.

King Oliver and Lil Hardin Armstrong 1921
King Oliver and Lil Hardin (1921)

In 1921 she joined King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band where she met Louis Armstrong. They were married in 1924. Lil was Louis Armstrong‘s second wife and she is generally credited with persuading Louis to be more ambitious, and leave King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.

Lil was a major contributor to Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. She played piano and sang occasionally, and composed several of the groups major songs, including “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque.” Lil was the leader of several other recording groups, including Lil’s Hot Shots and the New Orleans Wanderers.

Louis and Lil Hardin-Armstrong 1930She and Louis were separated in 1931 and were divorced in 1938, although they remained friends for life.

Lil appeared in several Broadway shows including “Hot Chocolates” and “Shuffle Along”.

In the late 1930s Lil recast herself as a Swing vocalist and cut 26 vocal sides for Decca records. In the 1940s she moved back to Chicago and played as a soloist in nightclubs. She continued to record sporadically up until 1963, often with the old gang of New Orleans/Chicago musicians like Johnny DoddsRed AllenZutty SingletonFrankie “Half-Pint” JaxonLonnie JohnsonBuster BaileyNatty DominqueLovie Austin, and Sidney Bechet.

Lil kept active in the music business for the rest of her life, although far from the limelight. Strangely enough, Lil died while taking part in a Louis Armstrong Memorial Concert in Chicago while playing “St. Louis Blues”, just two months after Louis had died.

Here is a special bonus recording from 1963 called Satchmo and Me where Lil Armstrong reminisces about her life.

Lil Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971)

Lil’s Hot Shots Lil “Brown Gal” Armstrong and her Dixielanders
New Orleans Wanderers Lil Armstrong and her Swing Orchestra
New Orleans Boot Blacks Lil Armstrong and her Chicago Boys
Lil Armstrong and her Orchestra Lil “Brown Gal” Armstrong and her All Star Band

Lil Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971)

Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
East Town Boogie
(Lil Armstrong)
1947 Chicago, Illinois Eastwood

Little Daddy Blues
(Lil Armstrong)
1947 Chicago, Illinois Eastwood
Rock It 1947 Chicago, Illinois Eastwood
Walking On Air
(Lil Armstrong)
1947 Chicago, Illinois Eastwood


Lil Hardin-Armstrong (1898-1971)

Just For A Thrill; Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady Of Jazz by James L. Dickerson, Cooper Square Press, 2002


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