Jazz Legend Louis Armstrong

Photograph of Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet. He is wearing a blue suit with a stylish tie and a white handkerchief in his pocket. Armstrong is captured in mid-performance, cheeks puffed out as he plays, with a joyful expression on his face against a plain yellow background.
Louis Armstrong, 1947

People called the neighborhood “The Battlefield.” A nickname earned from all the violence. It was into this environment that on August 4, 1901, Louis Armstrong was born to a mother who lived on a block in the center of this area of New Orleans, Louisiana.

For Louis, struggle marked many of his early years. He experienced much poverty, at times walking around barefoot because a pair of shoes was too expensive. And then, of course, there was racism, including one incident in which Louis and his friends were shot at while swimming in a pond.

There were joys, though, too, to living in New Orleans. One of the most significant was music. New Orleans was arguably the city of music in America at the time. And an enthralled young Louis wanted to perform. Unable to purchase instruments, he began singing at around ten years old and performing with a group on the streets.

He and the group showed talent, and listeners showed the kids appreciation with a bit of money after a performance. About what he earned, Louis said, “I would make a bee line for home and dump my share into mama’s lap.” That money helped support his mother and sister and allowed Louis to buy some things for himself.

Life went through an important change for Louis when he was thirteen. One night, he took a gun loaded with blanks from a man his mother was dating. Out with his friends, he fired the gun to scare someone firing at him. Louis was arrested and sent to a reform school. The school, run by a former Army captain, focused on rules and discipline. But while the days were hard, the goal was to help the kids. One of the activities offered was a band.

Louis was invited to join the band after the instructor heard him sing. He was given a cornet, and in this band, Louis thrived. Looking back in later years, he would remark on this experience,

“I do believe that my whole success goes back to that time I was arrested as a wayward boy at the age of thirteen. Because then I had to quit running around and began to learn something. Most of all, I began to learn music.”

After returning home from the reform school, Louis attempted to earn a living by working in the neighborhood, shoveling and selling coal. But he was small, and doing physical labor that paid on work completed didn’t amount to much in income. And Louis wanted to focus more on music.

In 1918, another important shift came in Louis’s life: he joined Fate Marable’s orchestra, playing on riverboats along the Mississippi River. “What a thrill that was!” Louis would say about being chosen for the position.

Next came Chicago, where he moved in 1922 to grow his career further. Here, he had financial stability and ample time to practice. His skills improved, and soon, more opportunities came to be. Louis was now in high demand. As one biographer wrote about Louis’s voice and audience appeal,

“Audiences especially delighted in Armstrong’s singing. He did not have a pretty voice. In fact, he rasped. But he had an uncanny knack for landing squarely in the middle of every note, and his vocal style was lit with the same spontaneity that shone through his trumpet solos.”

Louis continued to grow in his career, becoming known worldwide and winning many awards. He was so special that a fellow musician remarked, “Louis Armstrong’s station in the history of jazz is unimpeachable. If it weren’t for him, there wouldn’t be any of us.”

Louis passed away on July 6, 1971.


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Click here to read a snapshot biography of another jazz legend, Ella Fitzgerald.

To cite: “Jazz Legend Louis Armstrong.” Published by Historical Snapshots, https://historicalsnaps.com/2023/12/06/jazz-legend-louis-armstrong/


  • “Daniel Louis (Satchmo) Armstrong.” The Black Perspective in Music, vol. 1, no. 2, 1973, pp. 197–197. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1214468. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

  • Hobson, Vic. Creating the Jazz Solo: Louis Armstrong and Barbershop Harmony. United States, University Press of Mississippi, 2018.

  • “Louis Armstrong.” National Portrait Gallery. https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.94.43

  • “Louis Armstrong: A Cultural Legacy.” National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. https://npg.si.edu/exh/armstrong/

  • Monroe, Bill. “Louis Armstrong, a Tribute.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, vol. 12, no. 4, 1971, pp. 366–67. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4231218. Accessed 5 Dec. 2023.

  • Tanenhaus, Sam. Louis Armstrong. United States, Melrose Square Publishing Company, 1989.

Silver Screen Pioneer: The Norma Shearer Story

Black and white photograph of Norma Shearer posing in 1920s fashion. She wears a light-colored cloche hat adorned with a buckle, a plaid skirt, patterned stockings, and white heeled Oxford shoes. She is seated, leaning forward with her chin resting on her hand, smiling gently. She has a fur shawl draped over her shoulders and rests her elbow on a circular wooden stool. The background is a plain, light gradient.
Norma Shearer

Snapshot Biography

Norma Shearer was born on August 11, 1902, in Montreal, Canada. Speaking of her early years, Norma said,

“As a child, mine was a glorious life, one for which I have never ceased to be thankful…My parents were decidedly not the pampering type, which, whether or not they realized at the time, was a substantial rock in the foundations they were building for us. We were given greater freedom and more opportunities to show initiative than is the lot of most youngsters.”

Norma was drawn to acting from a young age, inspired by a vaudeville show she saw on her ninth birthday. Despite self-awareness about some physical imperfections, she was determined to become an actress.

This ambition faced a serious test when her father’s business collapsed in 1918, plunging the family into poverty. But her mother, believing in her daughter’s potential, sold a piano to fund a trip to New York City for Norma to pursue acting. They arrived in New York in January 1920 but faced immediate setbacks, including a harsh rejection in which Norma’s physical appearance was criticized.

Then came a break. As Norma said,

“I learned that Universal Pictures was looking for eight pretty girls to serve as extras. Athole [Norma’s sister] and I showed up and found 50 girls ahead of us. An assistant casting director walked up and down looking us over. He passed up the first three and picked the fourth. The fifth and sixth were unattractive, but the seventh would do, and so on, down the line until seven had been selected—and he was still some ten feet ahead of us. I did some quick thinking. I coughed loudly, and when the man looked in the direction of the cough, I stood on my tiptoes and smiled right at him. Recognizing the awkward ruse to which I’d resorted, he laughed openly and walked over to me and said, ‘You win, Sis. You’re Number Eight.'”

More roles as an extra came after, then came more significant parts, and by the late 1920s, she was a major star, demanding better roles and material, often directly from MGM’s head, Irving Thalberg, whom she married in 1927. Norma became known for roles as spunky, sexually liberated ingénues. And with her roles came much success. She was the first five-time Academy Award acting nominee, winning Best Actress for “The Divorcee” in 1930.

In the final years of her life, Norma’s career and public profile underwent significant changes. After the death of her husband in 1936, Norma fought to secure his estate’s financial rights from MGM. She continued to act in films but eventually retired from acting in 1942. Norma then married Martin Arrougé, a World War II Navy aviator and former ski instructor to her children, and largely withdrew from the Hollywood scene.

Norma passed away on June 12, 1983, of bronchial pneumonia at the Motion Picture Country Home in Woodland Hills, California.



Lucille Ball: The Woman Who Changed Television

Portrait of a woman with an elegant updo hairstyle, adorned with a voluminous pink flower headpiece and a sheer veil. She wears a black top with a large brooch and a full, striped skirt in vibrant shades of blue, pink, and green. Her makeup is classic with red lipstick, and she is seated with a serene expression.
Lucille Ball

It was the early 1950s, and “I Love Lucy” had America enraptured. The show was so popular that, as Lucille Ball, the star who played “Lucy” would say,

“In 1951-52, our show changed the Monday-night habits of America. Between nine and nine-thirty, taxis disappeared from the streets of New York. Marshall Fields department store in Chicago hung up a sign: ‘We love Lucy too, so from now on we’ll be open Thursday nights instead of Monday.’ Telephone calls across the nation dropped sharply during that half hour, as well as the water flush rate, as whole families sat glued to their seats.”

But in 1952, the show nearly came to a stop. Lucille was pregnant. She and her husband, Desi Arnaz, were expecting their second child. Joyful it was for the couple but problematic for the show, considering the societal taboos around depicting pregnancy on television. Sensing an opportunity to be bold and help shift social norms, the executives and writers wrote Lucille’s real-life pregnancy into the show, though they used the word “expecting” instead of “pregnant.”

As Lucille’s pregnancy unfolded on screen, the show handled it with warmth and humor, delighting viewers and adding to its immense popularity.

On January 19, 1953, Lucille gave birth to Desi Arnaz Jr., and just 12 hours later, 44 million viewers – 72% of American households – tuned in to see Lucy welcome Little Ricky into the world. The episode garnered more viewers than President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration the following day.

Lucille Ball was born in Jamestown, New York, on August 6, 1911. She was the firstborn child of Henry Durrell Ball and Desiree “DeDe” Evelyn Hunt. Dede, as the family called her, was a talented musician. “She could have been a fine concert pianist,” but married at seventeen and had Lucille shortly after. Henry “was a wonderful guy, according to everyone who knew him: full of fun, with a good comic sense.” Lucy’s mother would say that’s where her daughter’s sense of humor came from.

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  • Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. United States, Penguin Publishing Group, 1997.
  • Herringshaw, DeAnn. Lucille Ball: Actress & Comedienne. United States, Abdo Publishing, 2011.
  • “Lucille Ball.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucille_Ball
  • Photograph taken by Harry Warnecke and Robert F. Cranston in 1944, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution (https://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.94.40)

Frederick Douglass Quote on Slavery and Family


“The practice of separating children from their mother, and hiring the latter out at distances too great to admit of their meeting, except at long intervals, is a marked feature of the cruelty and barbarity of the slave. But it is in harmony with the grand aim of slavery, which, always and everywhere, is to reduce man to a level with the brute. It is a successful method of obliterating from the mind and heart of the slave, all just ideas of the sacredness of the family, as an institution.”

– Frederick Douglass

Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass, 1876


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“Frederick Douglass Quote on Slavery and Family” Sources:

  • Portrait taken in 1876 – National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, NPG.80.282
  • Douglass, Frederick, and Editions, Mint. My Bondage and My Freedom. United States, West Margin Press, 2020.

Lucille Ball Quote About “I Love Lucy” Show

“In 1951-52, our show changed the Monday-night habits of America. Between nine and nine-thirty, taxis disappeared from the streets of New York. Marshall Fields department store in Chicago hung up a sign: ‘We love Lucy too, so from now on we’ll be open Thursday nights instead of Monday.’ Telephone calls across the nation dropped sharply during that half hour, as well as the water flush rate, as whole families sat glued to their seats.”

– Lucille Ball

Portrait of Lucille Ball with an elegant updo hairstyle, adorned with a voluminous pink flower headpiece and a sheer veil. She wears a black top with a large brooch and a full, striped skirt in vibrant shades of blue, pink, and green. Her makeup is classic with red lipstick, and she is seated with a serene expression.
Lucille Ball


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“Lucille Ball Quote About ‘I Love Lucy’ Show” Sources:

  • Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. United States, Penguin Publishing Group, 1997.

Thomas Longboat: Marathon Legend

Thomas Longboat Biography

Fourteen thousand fans spent the evening of December 15, 1908, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, watching two men race a marathon on an indoor track. Many who couldn’t get a ticket waited outside, eagerly anticipating the results. It was a reflection of the time when audiences craved one-on-one endurance competitions.

The image depicts Thomas Longboat, a celebrated Indigenous Canadian long-distance runner, standing proudly next to an impressive trophy collection. The trophies vary in size, with the largest being almost as tall as Longboat himself. He is dressed in athletic attire, including a tank top embellished with a winged emblem, shorts, and laced athletic shoes. The background features ornate details, suggesting the photograph may have been taken in a studio. Longboat's expression is serious and composed, and his achievement is underscored by the signature "Gyatt Toronto-07" at the bottom right, indicating the photo was likely taken in 1907 in Toronto by a photographer named Gyatt.
Thomas Longboat, 1907.

Thomas (Tom) Longboat came into that race still relatively new to competitive distance running. He had been running for much of his life. As his mother said about Tom, “He run every morning. He run every night.” But his competitive running career had only started a few years prior, in 1905. Yet, while the years of competition were few, the victories had become numerous and impressive. Many had already billed him as the world’s fastest distance runner. He had the records to prove it.

This night would go as many had before. Tom won. He finished the race in 2 hours, 45 minutes and 5.2 seconds. For his victory, Tom received $3,750.

Tom would run two more indoor marathons in the next six weeks, winning both while taking time between the race days to get married.

Born on July 4, 1886, near Brantford, Ontario, Canada, Tom’s birth name was Cogwagee. His family was part of the Onondaga people, a Native American tribe who lived in what is now the United States for centuries but moved to Canada after the American Revolution, as they had sided with the British during the war.

Growing up in the tribe, Tom played lacrosse, which was popular amongst the community members. And it was lacrosse that would lead Tom to competitive running. In 1905, one of Tom’s lacrosse teammates challenged Tom to a race. As would become his norm, Tom easily won. He began entering racing competitions after this victory.

As his running career progressed, Tom developed “a long slow stride that was deceiving in its speed and seemed to carry him over the ground with the least possible exertion.” It would take him to many victories. In 1907, he won the Boston Marathon. About his race, it was written,

“Longboat’s defeat of his field of upwards of 100 starters, creditable as it was, was as nothing compared to the phenomenal, though official time of which he covered the hilly course. His time was 2 hours, 24 minutes and 20 4/5 seconds or more than five minutes better than the record made by J.O. Caffrey, another Canadian runner, six years ago.

Never before has any runner either amateur or professional, in this country or abroad, on the road or on the under path ever approached the figures set up by Longboat yesterday afternoon.

His work demonstrated beyond all question that he is the greatest distance runner that the world has ever seen.”

Tom was celebrated for his victory back in Toronto. The mayor greeted Tom upon his return with an education scholarship fund and a gold medal from the city. “Mr. Mayor, I thank you kindly for the splendid reception, for the medal and the city grant and I shall try to behave so as to prove myself worthy of the City’s kindness,” Tom replied.

The following year, Tom was running in the Olympics. He didn’t win, with some believing that Tom was drugged before the race. But though he didn’t win the Olympics, Tom became a World Champion a year later.

Tom’s running career had many successes but also came with many challenges. He experienced racism in the press and dealt with issues surrounding amateur status. Yet, he did what he set out to do. He wanted to show the world the talents of an Onondaga runner. And in doing so, he inspired many Native Americans to take up running.

A few years after the Olympics came World War I. Tom joined to serve his country. He survived the war but came home having been wounded twice. For decades after, Tom worked and lived a quiet life relative to his previous fame. He passed away in 1949.


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Click here to read a story of another champion athlete, Jim Thorpe.

To cite: “Thomas Longboat: Marathon Legend.” Published by Historical Snapshots.


  • Batten, Jack. The Man Who Ran Faster Than Everyone: The Story of Tom Longboat. United States, Tundra, 2009.
  • Cronin, Fergus, “The Rise and Fall of Tom Longboat”, MacLeans Magazine. Vol. 69 (February 4, 1956) p.20.
  • Littlechild, Wilton. Tom Longboat : Canada’s outstanding Indian athlete. University of Alberta Libraries, 1975.
  • Longboat Was Drugged”. Lindsay Watchman Warder. Lindsay, Ontario. September 17, 1908. p. 4. Archived from the original on January 24, 2023.
  • “T Longboat, the Canadian runner Standing (HS85-10-18314).” Wikimedia Commons (British Library), Wikimedia Foundation, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:T_Longboat,_the_Canadian_runner_Standing_(HS85-10-18314).jpg
  • The Brantford Courier, Brantford: April 20, 1907
  • “Tom Longboat.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tom_Longboat

Hannah Szenes Quote: “Yesterday war broke…

“Horrible! Yesterday war broke out between Italy and Abyssinia. Almost everyone is frightened the British will intervene and that as a result there will be war in Europe. Just thinking about it is terrible. The papers are already listing the dead. I can’t understand people; how quickly they forget. Don’t they know that the whole world is still groaning from the curse of the last World War? Why this killing?  Why must youth be sacrificed on a bloody scaffold when it could give so much that is good and beautiful to the world if it could just be allowed to tread peaceful roads?”

– Hannah Szenes, October 4, 1935

Hannah, sitting in a chair, wearing a dress and smiling with her right leg over her left, at home in Budapest. Photograph taken circa 1937.
Hannah at home in Budapest, circa 1937


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Hannah Szenes Quote Sources

  • Piercy, Marge, and Grossman, Roberta. Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. United States, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007.


The Pony Express. A Short History.

In the spring of 1860, the United States was a country stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific and grappling with the complexities of communication across the vast expanse. News and messages took weeks, sometimes months, to travel the continent. The existing infrastructure, primarily stagecoaches, and the limited telegraph lines, inadequately met the burgeoning nation’s needs.

It was against this backdrop that the concept of the Pony Express emerged. Conceived as a bold solution to bridge the communication gap, it embodied the American spirit of innovation and determination. The founders of the Pony Express recognized the urgent need for faster communication. So they envisioned a relay system of horseback riders covering a route that spanned approximately 2,000 miles, stretching from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California.

Traversing diverse and often treacherous terrain, including the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sierra Nevada, the relay system was optimized for speed, as riders would gallop between stations, known as “way stations,” spaced about 10 miles apart, a distance calculated as the optimum a horse could maintain at a fast pace without tiring. A fresh horse, already saddled and ready to go, awaited the rider at each station. This system ensured neither horse nor rider was overtaxed, maintaining a brisk pace throughout the journey.

For riders, the Pony Express hired lightweight men known for their daring and endurance. These riders faced immense challenges. They rode at all hours, in all weathers, over some of the most challenging terrains in North America, facing threats not only from the harshness of the environment but also from potential attacks by outlaws and hostile Native American tribes. The riders carried a lightened load, usually a small, specially designed saddlebag known as a “mochila,” which held the mail. The mochila was designed to be quickly transferred from one horse to another, minimizing downtime at each station.

While travel time for messages went from weeks or months to about ten days for the long route, the Pony Express service closed after about eighteen months in operation. The primary factor that led to closing was the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line. On October 24, 1861, the Western Union Telegraph Company completed the telegraph line connecting the East and West coasts of the United States. Offering faster, more reliable, and cheaper communication across the continent, the technological advancement rendered the Pony Express obsolete almost overnight.

Another factor was finances. The Pony Express was an expensive venture. The cost of setting up and maintaining the network of stations, purchasing and caring for the horses, and paying the riders was considerable. The service charged a high price for mail delivery, but more was needed to cover its operating costs. Despite its efficiency and popularity, the Pony Express struggled financially throughout its existence.

Still, though short-lived, the Pony Express was a remarkable feat of problem solving and entrepreneurship. And it holds a special place in American cultural and social history, symbolic of the Old West’s rugged individualism and adventurous spirit, having captured the imagination of a nation while symbolizing the relentless pursuit of progress and connectivity in a vast and diverse country.

The last run was completed in late October 1861, just two days after the transcontinental telegraph line became operational.


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  • GUINN, J. M. “THE PONY EXPRESS.” Annual Publication of the Historical Society of Southern California and Pioneer Register, Los Angeles, vol. 5, no. 2, 1901, pp. 168–75. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/41167796. Accessed 12 Nov. 2023.
  • Ridge, Martin. “Reflections on the Pony Express.” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 46, no. 3, 1996, pp. 2–13. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4519894. Accessed November 13 2023.

Langston Hughes Quote on Racism

“The first two or three days, on the way home from school, little white kids, kids my own age, six and seven years old, would throw stones at me – some of them. There were other little white kids, six and seven years old, who picked up stones and threw them back at their fellow classmates, and defended me, and saw that I got home safely. So, I learned very early in life that our race problem is not really of black against white, and white against black. It’s a problem of people who are not very knowledgeable, or who have small minds, or small spirits.”

– Langston Hughes

Black and white portrait of Langston Hughes from the early 20th century. He is wearing a cap with a ribbon and a white, button-up collared shirt. Langston has a pensive expression, with his eyes looking slightly off to the side of the camera.
Langston Hughes, 1925.


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Langston Hughes Quote on Racism Sources

  • National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; acquired through the generosity of Elizabeth Ann Hylton, NPG.2011.101
  • Scott, Mark. “Langston Hughes of Kansas.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 66, no. 1, 1981, pp. 1–9. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2716871. Accessed 9 Nov. 2023.

People’s Attorney, Justice Louis Brandeis

Black and white portrait of Justice Louis Brandeis in 1916. He appears as an elderly gentleman with greying hair and deep-set eyes. He is wearing a dark judicial robe over a suit with a dotted tie. The image captures him from the chest up and he is looking directly at the camera with a serene expression. The photograph has a soft focus, typical of the era, and is marked by Harris & Ewing, indicating the studio that took the photo.
Louis Brandeis, circa 1916

Justice Louis Brandeis Biography

While studying at the Harvard Law School, Louis Brandeis took courses with an openly anti-Semitic professor. One day, Louis, carrying his lunch tray, sat beside the professor in the university dining room. Displaying his prejudice, the professor told Louis that a pig and a bird should not eat together. Louis, maintaining his composure, replied, “Don’t worry, professor. I’ll fly away,” and moved to another table.

In another incident, the professor continued his antagonism and asked Louis a question during a test. He asked, “If you found a bag of wisdom and a bag of money on the street, which one would you take?” Louis replied, “The one with the money, of course.” Attempting to stereotype Louis as greedy, the professor said he would have chosen wisdom. Louis cleverly responded, “Each one takes what he doesn’t have.”

Louis would graduate from Harvard Law in 1877 at the top of his class with a record GPA. That record would stand for about eight decades.

Louis was brilliant, witty, fearless, and these experiences foreshadowed the tenacity and resilience he would later bring to his legal career, where he would become known as “the people’s attorney” for his commitment to public causes, pro bono work for labor and workers’ rights, and efforts in defending and shaping laws for the benefit of working people. About this role, Louis would write,

“The public is often inadequately represented or wholly unrepresented. That presents a condition of great unfairness to the public. As a result, many bills pass in our legislatures which would not have become law if the public interest had been fairly represented…. Those of you who feel drawn to that profession may rest assured that you will find in it an opportunity for usefulness probably unequaled. There is a call upon the legal profession to do a great work for this country.”

After working for years in the private sector as an attorney, in 1916, Louis was nominated to become a U.S. Supreme Court Justice. The debate over Louis’s appointment was so intense that it led to an unprecedented event: for the first time, the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a public hearing on a nomination. This allowed individuals to testify before the committee, presenting arguments for and against confirming Louis. He was confirmed and became a Justice.

In his role, Louis was known for his skepticism towards unrestricted governmental power and monopolistic economic activities. He championed federalism, allowing state legislatures to address varying needs. And he stood for the importance of free speech, amongst other issues.

Louis retired from the Supreme Court in 1939 and passed away two years later in 1941.

“People’s Attorney, Justice Louis Brandeis” Notes

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To cite: “People’s Attorney, Justice Louis Brandeis.” Published by Historical Snapshots.