9.16: Lillian Hardin
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Lillian Hardin, a pianist and composer, was one of the few women to forge a long and successful career in the male-dominated world of early jazz and in a segregated America. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, she took piano lessons as a child and briefly attended Fisk University before moving with her family to Chicago in 1917. Because she could read music, she got a job demonstrating sheet music at a music store, where she attracted the attention of local bandleaders. While performing with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, she met Louis Armstrong. They married in 1924 and Hardin (Armstrong) is generally credited with encouraging the young trumpeter to strike out on his own. During the 1920s she played the piano and sang on many of the recordings of the Hot Five and Hot Seven and composed several of the group’s hit songs. Though usually relegated to the role of accompanist, her occasional solos show a talented pianist strongly influenced by Jelly Roll Morton (whom she knew well), and even hint at a well-developed classical technique. During the 1930s Hardin (Armstrong) worked in New York, where she appeared in several Broadway shows and also led her own swing band. She returned to Chicago in 1940 where she continued to perform in nightclubs and record. Armstrong and Hardin separated in 1931 and were divorced in 1938, but they remained friends for the rest of their lives. In August of 1971, while playing in a memorial concert for Armstrong who had died the previous month, Hardin (Armstrong) suffered a massive heart attack and died.