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Boogie Woogie Beginnings

Hands playing the piano

This unique style of playing involves percussive, right hand improvisations over a repetitive bass pattern on the left hand. Some people might lump this style in with blues or jazz, especially layman listeners, but true musicians know and understand its rhythms, techniques and style. Boogie woogie has been around for a hundred years, give or take, but where did it start? The history is a bit muddy due to some of the early founders dying young and taking their stories with them, but the history can be found with a little digging. 

The Name

“Bogie” is a frame that’s placed under trains, and a boogie woogie song typically sounds similar to a train with insistent rhythms, repetitious and percussive treble figures and flattened fifth and third blue notes. Knowing this, it’s no surprise that it got its start in Marshall, Texas, a well-known rail hub. Marshall was actually deemed the birthplace of this genre in 2010. The name can also be traced to words found in the African language such as “boog” or beat or “bogi” or dance. 

The Rise to Fame

This style of music became popular in the late 19th century, post Civil War once freed slaves had access to musical instruments. The name wouldn’t come until 40 years later, but southern African American pianists would improvise solos, chords and rhythms among groups of friends in the rural parts of the country. The style of music slowly spread to big cities with the help of the railroad expanding. 

George Thomas’ New Orleans Hop Scop Blues is claimed to be the first 12-bar blues to feature a boogie woogie bass in 1916. However, the first recording of a boogie woogie piano solo wasn’t until 1924 with Jimmy Blythe’s Chicago Stomps. The name didn’t come until 1928 with Clarence “Pine Top” Smith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie.”

Where is Boogie Woogie Now?

After this, boogie woogie took off. What started as an African American style of music played in the rural south made its way to big city concert halls, venues and recordings that would be played in homes across the nation. Today, you can find bits and pieces of it in country, rockabilly and rock n’ roll. Check out our playlist of the top boogie woogie hits.

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