Opinion: Jazz Great Louis Armstrong Smoked Marijuana, Triumphed Over Racism

I would have loved to keep this topic black and white, but I have no choice but to keep it black and blue when it comes to the history of marijuana in America. You know, I close my eyes right now and picture the slaves circling up at Congo square, I can open my ears and hear the woman whispering to each other as the jazz played on, but I can’t help but open my eyes and ears to the prejudices and racist rhetoric that has brought marijuana in American to the point we are at today.

Take a minute, Can you picture the face of the upright, uptight white man as his wife whistles and taps her heels to the vibration she heard only in Storyville (the redlight district in New Orleans)? Can you imagine what the conversation was like among white lawmakers as they counseled together to stop the voodoo music from spreading to other cities like Memphis, Kansas City, and Chicago? Can you envision the black entertainers refusing to wear the black dye; the white entertainers wore to mimic them on stage? And if so, most people would say its not a pretty picture.

The fact of knowing a group of people would use such words as satanic and evil to describe a plant that enhanced a person’s creativity and sense of warmth towards another person is terrible. But one thing’s for sure in America with all adversity that stems from hate there’s always a black man with extreme perseverance and talent who comes out more golden than ever in the end. And in that era that one strong and sauced up black man happened to be a musician named Louis Armstrong, known by millions as ‘Satchmo” or ‘Pops” Yeah, before Bob Marley and Muhammad Ali, the worlds first black mega superstar who stood up for the people and the most precious plant was Ol’ Armstrong.

See, like most entertainers today, entertainment brought Armstrong out of his misery, born dirt poor and raised by his grandmother who was a former slave, Armstrong spent most of his early life running errands for local pimps and whores. But all that changed when he migrated to Chicago and linked up the vipers, some musicians that loved the smell and felt the same effects that Satchmo did when it came to the plant. See for Armstrong, marijuana wasn’t just a recreational substance-it was a nostrum, a tonic an essential part of his life. It calmed his nerves and lifted his spirits. “I had myself a ball,” he effused, adding, “It’s a thousand times better than whiskey”.

See, Armstrong smoked reefer daily and it never compromised his musical dexterity or his work ethic. Still able to perform in on average 300 concerts a year, one of the only few black entertains that could stand on the stage with other white entertainers back in heyday of racism and bigotry. But don’t get it twisted, off the stage he was still treated like a regular old second-class nigga. While touring in the south, he and his band were consistently harassed by the police. They were barred from whites-only restaurants, hotels and bathrooms. Some white supremacists bombed a theater in Knoxville Tennessee, not to forget the mob-controlled venues up north that brought the same type of risk that it did down south.

“Danger was dancing around you back then, “he remarked.” But going forward, Satchmo appeared in about sixty films, singing, swaging, blowing his horn and” mugging” at each and every camera. He became the first black to consistently show his face in A-list movies. His songs were in steady rotation on the radio and listened to throughout the entire world. But just like today’s black entertainer, his fame didn’t always protect him from the police.

Armstrong ended up getting popped by two Los Angeles narcs while smoking a joint with a white drummer in the parking lot of the New York Cotton Club. He ended up spending nine days in jail, convicted and sentenced to six months in prison and a one thousand dollar fine. But luckily this is America and due to his talent and genuine conduct, it was still Satchmo’s world to a certain degree. So with the right string being pulled and right judge being properly persuaded his sentence was suspended with the proviso that Armstrong leave California. So as he told record producer, John Hammond, “It makes you feel good, man. It relaxes you, makes you forget all the bad things that happen to a Negro.”

And with that being said, like any other person that pulls the people together and properly promotes the plant, Armstrong  went on to smoke his “shuzzit” for the rest of his life with a smile on his face, cash in his pocket and a gang of women on his lap.

Emerson Brown

Emerson Brown is the President and CEO of TouchTime Inc. located in Atlanta, GA.


  • Mark West

    April 26, 2018 at 8:25 pm

    Another quality article. Always a enjoyable and informative read. Looking forward to the next one.


    • Debra Borchardt

      April 27, 2018 at 8:21 am

      Thanks for this. We like to give other voices an opportunity to be heard.


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