Lil Hardin Armstrong (1898-1971) was a pianist, composer, singer, and bandleader who helped introduce America to jazz music. In the 1920s she was known as “Hot Miss Lil.” Today Lil Hardin Armstrong is noteworthy as one of the most prominent women in early jazz. Lil was one of the only female band members of her time, she played on many of the first jazz recordings ever made and wrote many of the early songs of the jazz era. Lil Hardin Armstrong was a driving force in the success of her husband, Louis Armstrong’s career. She wrote songs for him, performed with him, and her work as his promoter made him an international star.
In the world of jazz in the 1920s women, especially black women, were relegated to singing or dancing in the chorus line. But Lil Hardin had a serious career as a respected jazz composer, pianist, and bandleader long before her marriage to Louis Armstrong.
Born in 1898, Lillian Hardin grew up in Memphis. She studied piano at Mrs. (Julia) Hook’s School of Music and spent three years at Fisk University. But she felt pulled to Chicago in 1918, where a vibrant African-American musical culture was being shaped. By the 1920’s Lil Hardin was a pianist with the well-known King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, playing the Dreamland, the premiere Chicago club for African-Americans. There she met and married a trumpeter in the band named Louis Armstrong. Though they would later divorce, she kept his last name.
Lil Hardin Armstrong began recording in 1925. As a pianist, she was sought after for recording sessions. as the pianist on Louis Armstrong’s classic “Hot Five” Okeh Records recordings, a celebrated series of records in jazz. She also composed some of Louis Armstrong’s best-known songs, including “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue.” She branched out and became the leader of her first band, the Lil Hardin Armstrong Band. Over the course of her career, she created at least eight bands, one of them was an all-women orchestra.
Lil Hardin Armstrong pioneered a musical career in new and exciting territory that was previously dominated by men. She left a rich legacy of musical contributions in jazz for the world to celebrate and enjoy.