“Boogie-woogie” is a style of blues music, closely linked to jazz forms like ragtime and stride, usually played on the piano, and mainly associated with dancing. It developed in African-American communities in the 1870s and became generally popular during the late 1920s. For the most part, boogie-woogie tunes are twelve-bar blues, although the style has been used for songs with different beats.

The term is first recorded in print as the title of Clarence “Pinetop” Smith’s 1928 recording, Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie.

In January 2010, John Tennison summarized his research into the origins of boogie-woogie with the conclusion that Marshall, Texas is “the municipality whose boundaries are most likely to encompass (…) all instances of Boogie Woogie performance between 1870 and 1880.” In 2010, the Marshall City Commission officially declared Marshall the “birth-place” of boogie-woogie music, and started a program to encourage additional historical research and to stimulate interest in and appreciation for the early African-American culture in northeast Texas that played a vital role in creating boogie-woogie music.

Boogie-woogie music may be related to the steam railroad, both in the way the music might have been influenced by sounds associated with steam locomotives as well as the cultural impact the sudden emergence of the railroad might have had.

Alan Lomax wrote: “Anonymous black musicians, longing to grab a train and ride away from their troubles, incorporated the rhythms of the steam locomotive and the moan of their whistles into the new dance music they were playing in jukes and dance halls. Boogie-woogie forever changed piano playing, as black piano players transformed the instrument into a polyrhythmic railroad train.”

Tommy Dorsey’s band recorded an updated version of Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie in 1938, which (as Boogie Woogie) became a hit in 1943 and 1945, and was to become the swing era’s second best seller, after Glenn Miller’s In the Mood. From 1939, the Will Bradley orchestra had a string of boogie hits such as the original versions of “Beat Me Daddy (Eight To The Bar)” and Scrub Me Mamma With A Boogie Beat, in 1941.

The boogie-woogie fad lasted from the late 1930s into the early 1950s, and made a major contribution to the development of jump blues and ultimately to rock and roll, epitomized by Fats Domino, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. The boogie beat continued in country music through the end of the 20th century.

What can I say? Let’s boogie, guys!

  One thought on “boogie-woogie

  1. September 1, 2021 at 12:28 pm

    Lomax’s idea that train sounds may have influenced music is an interesting one. I’ve sometimes thought that the throbbing sounds of machinery inspired the popular music of the 20th century.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Leanne Taylor
    September 5, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Seems to make sense, as railroad ties are evenly spaced. And most machinery has a definite rhythm.
    I wonder about the timing of boogie woogie and the industrial revolutions in various places.

    Now, I haven’t been dancing, but my feet have been tapping as I sing
    Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Of Company B)
    and Chattanooga Choo Choo
    – – over and over. And over. :-))

    Liked by 1 person

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