These days, showing support for legalization of marijuana is in high fashion among celebrities. From posting photos of their favorite bud to speaking out publicly, marijuana use is everywhere in the music industry. However, this wasn’t always the case. It has only been in the past decade or so that marijuana stopped being viewed as a hard drug. Because of this, it was hard to find supporters that had a large public voice. One surprising marijuana supporter that emerged from the smoke was Louis Armstrong. Here is a brief history of how the famous trumpet player came to find solace in cannabis.
Who is Louis Armstrong?
While many stars fade over time, Louis Armstrong still remains relevant to this day. This is because Armstrong was more than a musician, he was a pioneer. Armstrong started his career in the early 1920’s at the ripe age of 20. Originally hoping to garner respect as a studio musician, Armstrong quickly became center stage. This was due to not only his enormous understanding for music, but also the way his talent personified through solos. He even had the opportunity to apprentice under jazz legend Joe “King” Oliver.
Being at the core of the jazz scene in the 20’s wasn’t always easy for Armstrong either. He had to deal with being a black man during the height of oppression. This is just one of the reasons why his love for marijuana is so remarkable. As years went on, Armstrong solidified his position as an icon in the jazz scene. He released hundreds albums and singles and was featured on dozens more. In fact, some people even fame him to be the biggest jazz musician of the century. His success is credited in the way that he understood how jazz moves and how he interpreted that through his trumpet.
Louis Armstrong’s career continued steadily well up to his death in early 1971. This career that spanned more than six decades isn’t the only legacy he left behind. Armstrong was also heavily involved in political activism. Whether he was helping African-American offenders find work or opening a house for juveniles, Armstrong always fought for others. With such a lucrative life and career, it’s no surprise that this famed musician found comfort in cannabis.
Louis Armstrong and His Love for Marijuana
Armstrong’s first taste of the sweet green came in the early 1920’s. This was right during the start of his long career. It was even reported that many of his songs and lyrics had a hint of cannabis love in them. Armstrong often called the tasty green bud “the gage”. Since he started his career on such a “high” note, it really has made fans think. People wonder if a small sliver of his success is due to marijuana. It is true that Armstrong is so loved because of his ability to scat and improvise a perfect trump riff. But, was this because he had the support of cannabis behind him? Marijuana has been known to open up channels of creativity and expression. Maybe Armstrong was able to articulate music so vividly because his channels were wide open.
While marijuana was being used heavily around this time, no one really talked about it, except Louis Armstrong. He was quoted as saying “We always looked at pot as sort of medicine, a cheap drunk and with much better thoughts”. This was actually a popular thought for many people back in the 1920’s. This is because prohibition was in full swing around this time. While people still managed to get their hands on forbidden alcohol, many turned to cannabis.
Louis Armstrong didn’t always stay under the radar with his marijuana use either. In the fall of 1930, Armstrong was arrested for smoking marijuana outside of a club in California. It was later revealed that his arrest stemmed from a complaint from a rival jazz musician. While Armstrong only spent nine days in jail, he credits this time to his political activism work.
Marijuana in Armstrong’s Music
One thing many jazz fans have tried to do over the years is to find the music that was inspired by cannabis. The truth is, if you look hard enough, you can find evidence to support this in just about every song. However, knowingly putting cannabis at the center of a song wasn’t always the intention. That is, with one big exception. There is one famed jazz song titled “Muggles” that can be found in Armstrong’s collection. Muggles was a common name for marijuana among musicians back in the 20’s and 30’s.
In modern music, it is pretty normal to find drug inspired lyrics, but back in the prohibition era, it was rare. Having a song so simply titled spoke volumes to Louis Armstrong’s support for strong green. There was no shame and there were no apologies. There was a direct link between the passionate jazz music and the creative energy of marijuana. Most importantly, Louis Armstrong was not hiding it.
Since Armstrong was such a loud supporter of marijuana, rumors started to fly. There were talks of him being in a drug cult and even talks of him having a Washington connection. It is rumored that after a long tour in Asia that Armstrong came home with a suitcase full of green. The amount of bud that he was said to be carrying was enough to give anyone serious jail time. But, Armstrong had an unexpected ally, the Vice President of the time Richard Nixon.
It is said that upon returning to the airport, Armstrong encountered Nixon who turned out to be a big fan. As Armstrong headed towards customs, Nixon stopped him and offered to take his bag. “Ambassadors don’t have to go through customs!” Nixon exclaimed. To this day, cannabis supporters love to tell the story about a former president smuggling drugs for the biggest jazz musician in the world.
Wrapping it Up
Understanding Louis Armstrong as a stoner has given many people a whole new appreciation for his music. His loud trumpet riffs and hard to follow scat progressions somehow seem to make sense now. Understanding that perhaps Armstrong was guided by the strong creative power of marijuana shines new light. However, Armstrong is not without talent. Even with marijuana on his side he would not have been able to build a career on that alone. The strong raw talent inside of Armstrong is what he will be remembered for today. The fact that he also loved cannabis is only the icing on a delicious jazz