In dance history class at The University of Iowa our teacher put great emphasis on the history and influence of African American artists on the development of American art forms.
One artist who performed in film and stage beginning in the 1920’s and performing throughout is life up until 1970. Louis Armstrong passed in 1971.
Our instructor focused on how early in his film career Armstrong was used as a cartoonish character, dressed in strange outfits and often presented as a comic aside within a film. However, she noted that the way Armstrong performed rose above the stature of the positions he was put in by the film industry. He shone through the character being portrayed, and as the film industry saw audiences drawn to Armstrong for his authenticity, his roles changed, and he was presented as a musical professional, on par with any white singer or musician.
Check out two examples from cinema history:
Sydney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt in La Route Du Bonheur 1952
Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby in High Society, 1956
There is much more to say on this topic, and having come down with the flu this week I’m resting, and will come back to develop this post further.