b. Lillian Hardin, 3 February 1898, Memphis, Tennessee, USA, d. 27 August 1971, Chicago, Illinois, USA. A classically trained pianist, Hardin worked extensively in Chicago in the 20s, becoming highly popular both as a solo performer and also playing with the bands of Sugar Johnny, Freddie Keppard and King Oliver. It was while she was with Oliver that she met and married the band’s newest recruit, Louis Armstrong. Aware of her new husband’s massive talent, and being hugely ambitious for him, she persuaded Louis to start his own band, and was herself a crucial presence in his classic Hot Five and Hot Seven groups. Personality clashes later made their marriage untenable and they were divorced. Lillian Armstrong’s subsequent career found her leading bands for club work and on numerous radio and recording dates. From the 50s onwards she worked mostly as a solo pianist and singer, usually in Chicago, although she sometimes played at festivals in the USA and Europe, where she also appeared in clubs. An occasional composer, one of her songs, ‘Just For A Thrill’, was recorded in the 50s by Ray Charles. She died in 1971 while taking part in a memorial concert for Louis, who had died a few weeks earlier.
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