Boogie-woogie is a style of dance and music characterized by a rolling, rollicking, fast-paced rhythm, often situated as the "lower" or more "primitive" companion to ragtime, which was played in parlours instead of beer halls and work camps. The style, long appreciated in such low-class establishments, became widely popular during and after World War II. Its origins seem to reach into turn-of-the-century Birmingham, with many early artists acknowledging influences from central Alabama.
According to music historian Peter Silvester, "A piano style using an ostinato left hand appears to have originated from [Alabama] and to have been transplanted to the East Coast before the end of the nineteenth century." The style spread rapidly as railroad travel became more accessible and germinated in many locales around the South and West, as well as in black neighborhoods in the urban centers in the North. The raucous pianists playing beer saloons in New York's Tenderloin district in the 1890s were "invariably youthful African-Americans from Alabama who played alongside a banjoist or harmonica player".
Contemporaries of Jelly Roll Morton recalled a well-regarded piano player known simply as "Birmingham". Morton's biographer also tells of another Birmingham pianist, Lost John, who arrived in Chicago with a rolling-bass style before World War I. Alabama-born and one-time Birmingham resident Pinetop Smith is credited with securing the name "Boogie-Woogie" for the influential sound with his 1928 recording of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie", made in Chicago.
Gennett Records set up a portable recording studio at Starr Piano Store on 3rd Avenue North in July 1927, capturing boogie-woogie alongside country blues and other sounds. Jabo Williams' 1932 recording of "Pratt City Blues" exemplifies the style.
- Silvester, Peter J. (2009) "Boogie-Woogie: Early Appearances and Names By Which It Was Known" in The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like God. 2nd ed. Scarecrow Press ISBN 0810869241