Satchmo SummerFest

Satchmo SummerFest

Date Observed: Four days in early August
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana

Satchmo SummerFest is a four-day extravaganza of food, fun, and, of course, music in New Orleans, Louisiana. The festival commemorates the birth date of native son and jazz icon Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong.

Historical Background

Louis Armstrong was born in 1901 into an impoverished family in an area known as "The Battlefield" in New Orleans, Louisiana. He earned the nickname "satchel mouth," later abbreviated to "Satchmo," because of his big-mouthed grin. For having fired a gun into the air one New Year's Eve, he was confined to the Colored Waif's Home for Boys - a serendipitous occurrence, because it was there that he received training in singing, percussions, the bugle, and coronet. Upon his release in his early teens, he worked various menial jobs during the day and frequented music venues at night, playing coronet when the opportunity presented itself. By 1919, Armstrong was employed as a horn player in the Kid Ory Band, and his professional career began.

To detail Armstrong's individual accomplishments would be daunting. His legacy includes a body of work that consists of numerous recordings - of which countless are considered to be classics - television and film credits, autobiographies, and magazine articles. Armstrong popularized "hot solos" and ushered in both the eras of the sounds of big band and swing. Satchmo's special style inspired youths to believe that a trumpet could be considered cool. It was said his vocalizations prompted other singers to try to catch colds in order to imitate his special sound. Armstrong was one of the first to sing "scat," improvising somewhat nonsensical musical sounds in harmony with melodies that other singers such as Ella Fitzgerald went on to make famous. With all of his contributions to jazz, there are many who wonder whether the genre would be anything even remotely close to what it is today had it not been for Louis Armstrong.

Jazz is a musical style created in America, but its roots come from Americans of African heritage. The music has a basis in a host of predecessors: spirituals, field shouts, sorrow songs, blues, and ragtime. It originated in African-American communities near the turn of the 20th century. Initially, it was slow to catch on, in part, because even the term "jazz" had associations implying loose morals.

However, by the early decades of the 20th century, the syncopated rhythms and harmonic tempos prevailed, and jazz became a widespread form of popular music throughout the United States and Europe. Since then, jazz styles and forms have continued to evolve throughout the years. Among its various metamorphoses have been New Orleans/Dixieland jazz, swing, bop/bebop, progressive/cool jazz, neo-bop/hard-bop, third stream, mainstream modern, Latin-jazz, jazz-rock, avant-garde/free jazz and more. While the popularity of jazz has waxed and waned over the decades, jazz is still considered to be uniquely American music, and Louis Armstrong was (and in many senses remains) America's representative - or "Ambassador Satchmo," as he was called - to the world for this musical art form.

Creation of the Festival

French Quarters Festivals, Inc., is a nonprofit organization that has been hosting the Satchmo SummerFest since its inception in 2001. The first event was meant to be just a one-time occurrence, in honor of Louis Armstrong's 100th birthday. Surprised at its success, the organizers decided to build upon the first year's agenda and schedule additional activities. Before long, it became an annual festival, bringing together many facets of Armstrong's life: the music he made famous, the food he loved to eat and advertised (going as far as closing much of his personal correspondence with "Red Beans & Ricely Yours"), his commitment to children, and his devotion to his city, its unique culture, and people.


A vast majority of Satchmo SummerFest events are held at the Louisiana State Museum's Old U.S. Mint. SummerFest is family oriented, with many events geared specifically for the younger set. There are multiple concerts with performers from all around the world, including entertainers who once shared the stage with Satchmo. In addition, seminars are held to ensure that the festival is a balance of education and entertainment.

Food is another major focus. On the menu at "Red Beans & Rice Alley" are such favorites as smoked pork chops on a stick, stuffed peppers with crawfish dressing, red beans ice cream, and Creole cream cheesecake. Local restaurants may feature "Satchmo Specials" named after his recordings. For example, Sweet Georgia Brown inspired a chef to offer a shortcake with fresh peaches, raspberries, and whipped crème.

There is also a "Satchmo Club Crawl/Strut" in which several music clubs, eateries, and businesses across the city participate. This ticketed event usually benefits a local musicoriented charity. Since no New Orleans event would be complete without it, the Satchmo SummerFest, after its annual Jazz Mass, has a traditional "second-line parade," replete with umbrellas and sashes, for any and all to join in on and les bon temps rouler ("let the good times roll") in a jazzy, New Orleans style.

Contacts and Web Sites

French Quarter Festivals, Inc. 400 N. Peter, Ste. #205 New Orleans, LA 70130 504-522-5730 or 800-673-5725; fax: 504-522-5711 or New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau 2020 St. Charles Ave. New Orleans, LA 70130 800-672-6124

Louis Armstrong Archives Queens College 65-30 Kissena Blvd. Flushing, NY 11367-1597

Louis Armstrong House 34-56 107th St. Corona, NY 11368 718-997-3670; fax: 718-997-3677

Further Reading

Brothers, Thomas. Louis Armstrong's New Orleans. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2006. Burns, Ken C., and Geoffery C. Ward. Jazz: A History of America's Music. New York: Knopf, 2002. Gourse, Leslie. Louis' Children: American Jazz Singers. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2001. Jasen, David A., and Gene Jones. Black Bottom Stomp: Eight Masters of Ragtime and Early Jazz. New York: Routledge, 2002. Meckna, Michael. Satchmo: The Louis Armstrong Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004. Wonndrich, David. Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2003.

Writings by Louis Armstrong

Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans . New York: Prentice-Hall, 1954. Swing That Music . Introduction by Rudy Vallee. New York: Longmans, Green and Company, 1936.
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007

Satchmo SummerFest

Early August
The Satchmo SummerFest is a celebration of the music and legacy of jazz musician Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, who was born in New Orleans, La., on August 4, 1901. The four-day weekend festival takes place in early August in the city's French quarter. It started in 2001 as a commemoration of the centenary of the beloved performer's birth, and was such a success that it was adopted as an annual event by French Quarter Festivals, Inc.
At the center of the festival is jazz music performed on three stages devoted, respectively, to traditional jazz, contemporary jazz, and brass bands. Participants also honor Armstrong with an annual exhibit of art on a Satchmo theme, with awards for outstanding entries. There are speakers' seminars on the history of music, jazz exhibits, a children's stage, and a jazz-themed Catholic mass. Also featured is a "Satchmo Strut" through New Orleans' live music district, and plenty of New-Orleans-style food, including a red-beans-and-rice luncheon.
French Quarter Festivals, Inc.
400 N. Peters St., Ste. 205
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-522-5730 or 800-673-5725; fax: 504-522-5711
AAH-2007, p. 393
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
The man accredited with putting New Orleans on the jazz map is none other than trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong, who at times called himself "Little Arabian Boy." But it is Armstrong's more well-known nickname "Satchmo" that inspires August's music festival Satchmo SummerFest. Some of New Orleans' finest jazz and brass band musicians come out for a three-day show to pay tribute to the man and his music.
FESTIVALS Satchmo Summerfest, from August 1-4, is a free festival marking the birthday of one of the city's most famous sons, Louis Armstrong fqfi.
Enjoy some crawfish etouffee along with a smorgasbord of all that is wonderful about jazz in New Orleans at the Satchmo Summerfest. This three-day extravaganza is one of your more low-key festivals, perfect for a lazy weekend of eating, listening and people-watching.
A scaled-back Mardi Gras was duly staged in February, the Jazz rest in April brought in a reported $250 million to the city; the Satchmo Summerfest and White Linen Night (when crowds converge on the art galleries of the Warehouse district) recently went off without a hitch.
The French Quarter Festival and Jazz Fest are in April, the Essence Music Festival is in July, and August hosts the Satchmo SummerFest.
* Satchmo Summerfest. A "red beans and ricely yours" weekend in the French Quarter honoring Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong.