With an orchestral backing and a rich, gravelly vocal from Louis Armstrong, "What A Wonderful World" sounds like a standard from the 1940s, but the song was recorded and released in 1967, the same year "Daydream Believer" and "Light My Fire" were big hits. Armstrong, a titan in the world of jazz who started recording in 1923, broadened his appeal in the 1950s and 1960s by appearing on various TV shows and covering songs like "Blueberry Hill" and "Mack The Knife." In 1964, he had a #1 US hit with "Hello, Dolly!," knocking The Beatles from the top spot during Beatlemania. By the time he recorded "What A Wonderful World," he was 66 years old and near the end of his career; he died in 1971 of heart failure at 69.
One of the most optimistic and uplifting songs ever conceived, "What A Wonderful World" was written by Bob Thiele and George Weiss. Thiele was a producer for ABC Records, which had recently signed Armstrong. He was steeped in jazz, having worked on songs for the likes of John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie. Weiss was a songwriter who helped create the hit version of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight."
The song is about appreciating the beauty of our surroundings. Armstrong really connected with it and delivered a very convincing vocal. Armstrong married his wife Lucille in 1942 and soon after, the couple moved into the Corona neighborhood of Queens, New York, where they were still living when he recorded the song in 1967. According to the Louis Armstrong House museum, he drew from life in that neighborhood as inspiration for his vocal. "I saw three generations come up on that block," he said. "They're all with their children, grandchildren, they come back to see Uncle Satchmo and Aunt Lucille. That's why I can say, 'I hear babies cry, I watch them grow, they'll learn much more then I'll never know.' And I can look at all them kids's faces. And I got pictures of them when they was five, six and seven years old. So when they hand me this 'Wonderful World,' I didn't look no further, that was it." Armstrong brought the same kind of joy to his trumpet playing. "I just think about all my happy days and memories and the notes come out," he said.
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