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Thu, 02.03.1898

‘Lil’ Hardin, Entertainer born

'Lil' Hardin

*Lillian "Lil" Hardin was born on this date in 1898. She was a Black pianist, singer, and composer.

From Memphis, Tennessee, Hardin studied music at Fisk University and then moved to Chicago to study at the Chicago College of Music in 1917. She also attended the New York College of Music, earning a post-doctorate in 1929.   She played piano, composed, and arranged for most of the important Hot Bands from New Orleans.  While working at a music store in Chicago, she was invited to play with Sugar Johnny's Creole Orchestra, then Freddie Keppard's Original Creole Orchestra, and soon led her own band at the Dreamland Cafe on Chicago’s south side.

In 1921 she joined King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band; there, she met Louis Armstrong. They were married in 1924. Hardin was Louis Armstrong's second wife, and she is generally credited with persuading Louis to be more ambitious and leave King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Hardin was a major supplier to Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings. She played piano, sang occasionally, and composed several of the groups’ major songs, including Struttin' with Some Barbeque. Hardin was the leader of several other recording groups, including Lil's Hot Shots and the New Orleans Wanderers. Hardin and Armstrong separated in 1931 and were divorced in 1938, although they remained friends for life.

She appeared in several Broadway shows, including "Hot Chocolates" and "Shuffle Along." In the late 1930s, she recast herself as a Swing vocalist and recorded 26 vocal songs for Decca records. In the 1940s, she moved back to Chicago as a soloist in nightclubs. She continued to record sporadically up until 1963, often with the old gang of New Orleans/Chicago musicians like Johnny Dodds, Red Allen, Zutty Singleton, Frankie "Half-Pint" Jaxon, Lonnie Johnson, Buster Bailey, Natty Dominque, Lovie Austin, and Sidney Bechet. Hardin kept active in the music business all her life, although far from the limelight. Hardin was the most prominent woman in early jazz, a pioneer for females in the field. During the early jazz period, she was noted for the strong rhythmic force of her play.

Strangely enough, Hardin died while taking part in a Louis Armstrong Memorial Concert in Chicago while playing "St. Louis Blues" just two months after Louis had died.

To Become a Musician or Singer


River Walk

Memphis Music

ASCAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

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