Jazz

The lasting influence of Louis Armstrong's trip to Ghana

When Satchmo visited the former British Gold Coast (now Ghana), he left a lasting impression that lives on today.

For Atlas Obscura, Laura Kiniry wrote about Louis Armstrong’s trip to Accra, Ghana in 1956:

“There was more than just excitement in the region during Armstrong’s visit,” says Adrian Oddoye, co-owner of Accra’s +233 Jazz Bar and Grill, “it was euphoria,” he says of the scene captured in archival recordings. This was Armstrong’s first trip to Africa, and the Gold Coast colony—which had been under European occupation since the 15th century—was on the verge of independence; it would become the sovereign nation of Ghana less than a year later. The trumpeter had arrived at the precise moment that the citizens of this soon-to-be independent country were reclaiming both themselves and their sound—one that played a pivotal role in establishing Ghana’s new national identity.

[…] In the many decades since Armstrong’s visit, Accra’s jazz scene changed substantially. Over time, fusion styles like funk and afrobeat—a blend of highlife, American jazz, Islamic-influenced fújì music, and later funk and soul—superseded Satchmo’s bubbly sound and even that of bebop, the quick-tempo style of jazz greats such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, which came after Armstrong. Although a penchant for traditional jazz resurfaced briefly in the 1990s, when cozy clubs with names like Jazz Tone Club and the Village Inn popped up to cater to middle-class Ghanian expats who’d started returning home, the trend was short-lived. By the second decade of the 2000s DJs, electronic music, and audio processors like Auto-Tune, were taking over Ghana’s sound. Even highlife music was moving away from its predominantly acoustic format.

Georgetown University Library also has photos from the time, showing Louis Armstrong with a local African chief, a telegram from Louis Armstrong to his mistress Lucille Preston, and an article from The Gold Coast Today documenting his visit. Stream one of the many videos featuring Satchmo in Ghana below.

Louis Armstrong and His All Stars in Africa
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