What a Wonderful World

Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, 1967

Based on your reading of the lyrics, what do you think is the message of "What a Wonderful World"?

The song was recorded in the turbulent year of 1967. What was going on in the country and throughout the world that might have made the song's message appealing?

What aspects of Louis Armstrong's long career made him particularly suited to deliver the message of this song?

Compare and contrast the song with songs such as Edwin Starr's "War" or Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam," which take a very different approach to addressing the issues of the era.

"What a Wonderful World" performed by Louis Armstrong on Louis Armstrong's All-Time Greatest Hits, © 1990. Available on Itunes, Spotify, and YouTube.

 

For more information on Louis Armstrong, visit the Louis Armstrong House Museum website.

Rights have not been secured to reprint the words for this song. For the lyrics please consult this online source:

https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/louisarmstrong/
whatawonderfulworld.html

Recorded in 1967, "What A Wonderful World" is a lyrical ballad made famous by the jazz musician Louis Armstrong (1901–71). With lyrics by producer Bob Thiele and an arrangement by composer George David Weiss, "What a Wonderful World" features an expressive melody with idyllic images of nature, people, and the beauty of life.

The song was released during a turbulent time in American history. With the Vietnam War, protests of the Civil Rights Movement, and assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy at the forefront of the news headlines, the sincerity of Armstrong's vocals, the lush orchestra in the background, and the gentle patter of the drums offered hope and invited listeners to see beauty in the world.

Born in New Orleans, Armstrong's career is representative of the Great Migration, during which many southern musicians moved to northern cities, spreading the popularity of jazz and other styles and mixing them with local traditions. Armstrong rose to prominence among early jazz musicians in New Orleans, bolstered by his mentor, cornetist King Oliver. Oliver moved to Chicago in 1919 and summoned Armstrong to perform with his Creole Jazz Band in 1922. At this time, Armstrong began to appear with the leading bands and musicians of the day, shuttling between Chicago, New York, and New Orleans and touring America and Europe.

PIttsburgh Courier
An article from the Pittsburgh-Courier about Louis's protests because of the Little Rock Nine.

Armstrong leaves behind a complicated racial legacy. In the 1940s his stage antics became controversial as many younger jazz musicians saw them as reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy. Others protested his silence in the early years of the Civil Rights Movement and his willingness to perform to segregated audiences. Nevertheless, his general popularity persisted and he later became outspoken on issues of race. In 1947 he began to record and tour with a new band, the All Stars, and in the 1950s he was engaged by the US State Department to tour the world and engage in cultural diplomacy. He made international headlines in 1957 when he backed out of a tour to the Soviet Union in protest of the refusal to allow the Black students known as the Little Rock Nine to attend a formerly whites-only public school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

"What A Wonderful World" reached number one in the United Kingdom in 1968, but initially it was not a hit in the United States. However, seventeen years after Armstrong's death the song became his last hit in the United States following its inclusion in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam (1987), in which the beauty of the lyrics and music was juxtaposed with scenes of war.