Black Acnd Blue by Louis Armstrong
Film and Music
Submitted By zxcvasdf
“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.
Improvisation was the most unique and challenging style utilized in the Jazz era. Musicians used this skill set to differentiate themselves from other artists within their original musical scores along with remakes of other artist’s songs, as no two performances of a song were the same. This is because the musicians literally made up or created the notes they played for their solos during the performance. The top skilled performers of Jazz were defined by their unique ability to create interesting solos with both their vocals and instruments. Louis Armstrong had the ability to use phrasing as a singer to capture syncopations that were prominent in early jazz.
Jazz in the 1920’s was a combination of blues, ragtime, swing notes, and other European influences. Armstrong was able to capture the blue note, which is distinctive by being played or sung a pitch that is slightly lower than the major scale. Louie incorporated a blues scale with flattened 3rds, 5ths and 7ths and along with that; he frequently used 9ths and 13ths. This is evident in his vocals and trumpet playing in his recording of “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue”. He also utilized the ragtime genre in his interpretation of the work, the syncopation in rhythms or swing rhythms made his versions livelier, vibrant, and thereby more appealing to dance to. 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.
Throughout this song, Louis Armstrong lyrics are all talking about how the African Americans are being treated and that it isn’t their fault they are considered different. For example, when he says “My only sin…is in my skin” he is really arguing the fact that blacks and whites are equal. He realizes that any African American can achieve what any white American is capable of achieving and that their only differences between the two races is skin color, which shouldn’t even have the impact that is did. Louis Armstrong furthers this point in his previous chorus when he says “I’m white inside but that don’t help my case ‘cause I can’t hide what’s in my face.” Any listener can tell that he is being sincere in what he is saying and that this subject deeply affects him. He really is a man who wants nothing more than for African Americans to be treated equally. There is also one verse he sings in here that pinpoints the racial tolerance affecting his time period. “Even the mouse ran from my house, they laugh and you and scorn you too, what did I do to be so black and blue.” You can tell that he is a man who has suffered from the discrimination.
Touching back on equality, Louis Armstrong would have been one of the people to look at if you were to compare the two races. He was better, if not far superior, to most of the white musicians in America. The whites were so head strong that they thought no African American could compete with a white man. Yet, flocks of white people would show up to Louis Armstrong’s performances just to get a glimpse of him playing. Armstrong would immediately get the attention of the audience with how great of a musical player he was. The performances he would give, standing alone in quality and perfection, would have made the common white person understand that African Americans are the equals even though they are not of the same skin color.
Louis Armstrong was a great advocate for racial tensions in the United States. He proved that any African American can be just as good as a white man. He showed the whites that even though they think there are many differences that make them inferior, the only thing that is truly different is the color of their skin. Finally, Armstrong proved that no matter what the racial tensions between them try to do, nothing can hold them back from their potential to be considered equals.
In conclusion, Louis Armstrong managed to do incredible things with his remake of the song. It followed the characteristics of the 1920’s Jazz. He managed to make it completely different and individual from the original. Plus he also turned it into strong message against discrimination. This song is just one example of how Louis Armstrong stands to be one of the best performers of Jazz.