Louis Armstrong was born on August 4, 1901. He was nicknamed “Satchmo” because of his big satchel-like mouth.
He became one of the first black entertainers to become successful among white audiences during the era of segregation.
He was one of the most influential figures in jazz. He is also known for his recognizable gravelly voice and he was also an influential singer.
What is less known about Satchmo is that he had a special fondness for marijuana and that he helped popularize in the 1920s among musicians, including Bing Crosby.
Louis was first turned onto marijuana in the mid-1920s, and he smoked it all his life, including before performances and recordings.
Louis Armstrong was arrested for smoking marijuana with drummer Vic Berton outside the Cotton Club in Culver City, California in November 1930.
They spent the night in a cell, laughing since they were still high. They stopped laughing the next morning when they were told that they had to pay $1,000 dollars each.
In the 1950s, the US State Department was sending African-American writers, artists, musicians and sports figures as Goodwill Ambassadors around the world to promote American democracy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.
In the late 1950s, the State Department made Louis Armstrong “Goodwill Ambassador” and he was sent on a concert tour around Europe and Asia.
Because of his ambassadorial status, when he returned from the first two tours he was just waved through customs. However, when he landed at Idlewild Airport in New York in 1958, he was directed toward the customs lines. He joined a long line of travelers that were about to be inspected.
He began sweating profusely since he was carrying three pounds of marijuana in his suitcase.
While Satchmo was waiting in line to be inspected, Vice President Richard Nixon showed up in the room, followed by reporters and photographers.
When Nixon saw Armstrong, he immediately went to him and asked him what he was doing there waiting in the line.
Satchmo told him that he just came back from his goodwill ambassador tour of Asia and that they told him to stand in the line for customs.
Vice President Richard Nixon said to him that ambassadors didn’t have to go through customs and he offered to carry his bags. Of course, Satchmo was glad to accept his help.
Ironically, Nixon was now smuggling Satchmo’s suitcase with three pounds of marijuana in it through customs.
The irony of the story is that the father of the War on Drugs was once a jazzman’s drug mule. And later, when he was told what had really happened, Nixon just exclaimed “Louis smokes marijuana?”