Louis Armstrong was the first important soloist to emerge in jazz and he became the most influential musician in the music's history. As a trumpet virtuoso his playing, beginning with the 1920s studio recordings made with his Hot Five and Hot Seven ensembles, charted a future for jazz in highly imaginative, emotionally charged improvisation. For this, he is revered by jazz fans. But Armstrong also became an enduring figure in popular music due to his distinctively phrased bass singing and engaging personality, which were on display in a series of vocal recordings and film roles. Given his popularity, his long career, and the extensive label-jumping he did in his later years, as well as the differing jazz and pop sides of his work, his recordings are extensive and diverse, with parts of his catalog owned by many different companies.
Armstrong made his recording debut as a leader on November 12, 1925. Contracted to OKeh Records, he began to make a series of recordings with studio-only groups called the Hot Fives or the Hot Sevens. By February 1927, Armstrong was well-enough known to front his own group, Louis Armstrong & His Stompers. In April, he reached the charts with his first vocal recording, "Big Butter and Egg Man," a duet with May Alix. By the start of 1932, he had switched from the "race"-oriented OKeh label to its pop-oriented big sister Columbia Records, later moving to Decca. He also took a series of small parts in motion pictures, beginning with Pennies From Heaven in December 1936. With the decline of swing music in the post-World War II years, Armstrong broke up his big band and put together a small group dubbed the All Stars, which made its debut in Los Angeles on August 13, 1947. Armstrong completed his contract with Decca in 1954, after which his manager made the unusual decision not to sign him to another exclusive contract but instead to have him freelance for different labels. In 1964, he scored a surprise hit with his recording of the title song from the Broadway musical Hello, Dolly!, which reached number one in May. This pop success was repeated internationally four years later with "What a Wonderful World," which hit number one in the U.K. in April 1968. He performed less frequently in the late '60s and early '70s and died of a heart ailment at 69.