By James L. Dickerson
Just for a Thrill
Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady of Jazz
Along with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Lillian “Lil” Hardin (1898-1971) was arguably the third most crucial figure in the creation of popular jazz, but today her important contributions are largely unknown today because of past and present hostility of male jazz critics. Today’s “Me Too” generation should embrace Lil Armstrong for the pioneer that she was. No other genre of American music has been quite so inhospitable to women as jazz, which makes it perfect timing for the reprint edition of this important book. Publishers hope to soon see this book in development for a motion picture.
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When the young Louis Armstrong arrived in Chicago to play second cornet in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, he was first given the once-over and then the cold shoulder by the band’s 20-year-old piano player, Lil Hardin (a.k.a. “hot Miss Lil”) . . .. Dickerson (Colonel Tom Parker) here combines biography with cultural history, making Lil the central character of a host of jazz musicians, managers, booking agents, nightclub owners, gangsters, and record company executives. This is Lil’s story, to be sure, handled with intelligence and sensitivity, but in a broader sense, it is also that of Chicago and Memphis jazz. And, of course, it’s the story of the artists, some of them magnificently gifted, struggling day by day against the forces of exploitation, racism, and prejudice against women. Dickerson’s subjects, method, and sympathetic treatment recommend his book to public libraries and especially to middle school and high school readers.
– Library Journal, Harold Cordry, Baldwin, KS
Except for her songs, documentary remnants of this second wife of Louis Armstrong are scarce. But this doesn’t make Dickerson’s assertion of her musical importance any less valid, and he has performed heroically in tracking down and interpreting the biographical tidbits that do remain . . . In her later years, Lil Hardin Armstrong saw such stars as Ray Charles, Nancy Wilson and Peggy Lee record her songs. She ran a restaurant, designed clothing (including stage costumes for her ex-husband) and taught music and French. On Aug. 27, 1971, just over a month after Louis Armstrong died, she performed at a concert in his memory. As she finished her opening selection, St. Louis Blues, she collapsed at the piano and died
– Edward Morris, BookPage
Few women in jazz—other than vocalists—have been able to carve a noticeable niche for themselves, and perhaps no talent has been more overlooked than that of Lil Hardin Armstrong. Being married to the famous trumpeter regrettably eclipsed her considerable talents as a pianist, composer, and bandleader and, therefore, she is largely a forgotten figure today . . . Lil single-handedly shaped the career of her famous husband, forcing the shy trumpeter to leave the shadow of Joe Oliver and strike out as a soloist. But managing the career of the awkward, wandering Louis Armstrong consumed her energy, and it was only toward the end of their estranged marriage that she struck out on her own as a musician. In offering a compelling portrait of a remarkable woman, Dickerson also provides a fascinating history of jazz.
– Booklist, Ted Leventhal
Just for a Thrill brings the roots of jazz to life by telling the dramatic story of one young woman who became the ‘brains’ of the operation and in the process, helped kick start one of the greatest careers in jazz. A fast read and a key piece of the puzzle.
– Ben Sidran, author of Black Talk and Talking Jazz
Ever get a whoopin’ for playing the devil’s music? No? Me neither, though I got whoopin’s for plenty of other junk-all of which I deny, then, now and forever. It was obviously my brother who did it all. As a child, Lil Hardin got a whoopin’ from her ma, however, because Momma Hardin thought the devil was coming through her daughter’s piano-playing hands. That story is included in an upcoming book by James L. Dickerson: Just for a Thrill: Lil Hardin Armstrong, First Lady of Jazz. The book recounts the life of the former Mrs. Louis Armstrong, from her Memphis childhood to her death on stage, while playing “St. Louis Blues,” during a memorial jazz concert for Pops in 1971.
“The woman known as “Hot Miss Lil” was a prolific songwriter, including the classic “Struttin’ with Some Barbeque,” and she was a member of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band and her husband’s legendary groups the Hot Fives and the Hot Sevens. Hardin Armstrong directly altered Satchmo’s career by convincing him to leave King Oliver’s band and move to New York City to play with Fletcher Henderson. She had a long career after her marriage to Armstrong dissolved, recording many albums for Decca in the 1930s and playing around Chicago the last 30 years of her life. These stories and more are included in Just for a Thrill.
– Christopher Porter, JazzTimes