Born in Memphis in 1898, Lillian Hardin was called Lil. She studied piano and organ and played in church from a young age; she was attracted to the blues but her family opposed such music and sent her to Fisk University for a year for music training and a “good” environment. To keep her from the local music scene when she returned in 1917, her mother moved to Chicago and took Lil Hardin with her. Was known as the first major woman jazz instrumentalist.

Though Louis Armstrong and Lil Hardin became friends, she was still married to Jimmy Johnson. When she divorced Johnson, she helped Louis Armstrong divorce his first wife, Daisy, and they began dating. After two years, they married in 1924. She helped him learn to dress more appropriately for big-city audiences, and convinced him to change his hair style into one that would be more attractive.

Because King Oliver played lead cornet in the band, Louis Armstrong played second, and so Lil Hardin Armstrong began to advocate for her new husband to move on. She persuaded him to move to New York and join Fletcher Henderson. Lil Hardin Armstrong didn’t find work herself in New York, and so she returned to Chicago, where she put together a band at the Dreamland to feature Louis’ playing, and he also returned to Chicago.

In 1925, Louis Armstrong recorded with the Hot Fives orchestra, followed by another the next year. Lil Hardin Armstrong played piano for all the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings. The piano at that time in jazz was primarily a percussion instrument, establishing beat and playing chords so that other instruments could play more creatively; Lil Hardin Armstrong excelled at this style.

Louis Armstrong was often unfaithful and Lil Hardin Armstrong often jealous, but they continued to record together even as their marriage was strained and they often spent time apart. She served as his manager as he continued to become more famous. Lil Hardin Armstrong returned to her study of music, obtaining a teaching diploma from the Chicago College of Music in 1928, and she bought a large home in Chicago and a lakeside cottage retreat, perhaps meant to entice Louis to spend some time away from his other women and with Lil.

Source: Women History


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