Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong released what is arguably his best-known song 50 years ago. On August 16, 1967, “What A Wonderful World” was released to the public on ABC Records but wouldn’t become a hit until it broke overseas.
Songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss penned the song in response to some of the issues of the day, including the Vietnam War, racial strife, and unrest in urban environments. The song was reportedly offered to Tony Bennett, but Weiss has also said that he always meant the song to be for Armstrong.
Both Thiele and Weiss pegged Satchmo, by then a much older man, for his ability to appeal to a wide cultural base and bring varying races together. Initially, Armstrong was lukewarm on the song, but softened to the idea of singing it once he read the lyrics. In a brief profile in the New York Daily News this week, it’s said that the song reminded the New Orleans-born Armstrong of his adopted neighborhood of Corona, Queens.
ABC Records didn’t promote the song as the label head wasn’t fond of the recording, but it rose to the top of the UK Singles Chart. The feat landed Armstrong in the record books as the oldest person to hit number one on the chart.
The record was eventually broken by Tony Bennett in 2009 with the singer’s cover of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s Bee Gees-penned classic, “Islands In The Stream.”
“It’s A Wonderful World” has been covered several times over, becoming a beloved standards for singers of all genres. After the song’s digital release in 2014, it has sold well over 2 million copies.
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