Pinetop Smith

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Clarence "Pinetop" Smith (born June 11, 1904 in Orion, Pike County; died March 15, 1929 in Chicago, Illinois) was a boogie-woogie and blues pianist, best known for his 1928 recording of "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie."

Smith was born in the community of Orion, north of Troy in Pike County. He earned his nickname as a child for his habit of climbing trees. He began working as a pianist for house parties in Troy and soon moved to Birmingham, where he sometimes worked with Robert McCoy. In 1919 he was credited as a member of "Mattie Dorsey's Big Four" at an appearance in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1920 he moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and toured as a singer, pianist and comedian in minstrel shows and on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit. He also lived for a while in St Louis, Missouri and Omaha, Nebraska. At various times he accompanied blues stars like Ma Rainey or Butterbeans and Susie.

In the mid-1920s fellow pianist and Alabama native Cow Cow Davenport recommended him to Mayo Williams of Brunswick/Vocalion Records in Chicago's Furniture Mart. Smith moved there with his wife, Sarah, and their first son, sharing a Prairie Avenue rooming house with Albert Ammons and Meade "Lux" Lewis and working a regular gig at the Forestville Tavern. Ammons and Pete Johnson credited Smith as a key influence in the emerging "boogie woogie" style. He recorded his "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" during a session on December 29, 1928. The title of the hit song helped popularize the style, and give it a name.

Smith had a second session for Vocalion on January 1415, 1929 and made another unissued record on March 13. He was shot to death by accident by a man trying to break up a melee at a dance in Chicago's Prince Hall Masonic Temple on Orleans Street.

"Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" was re-recorded by Cleo Brown in 1935, and introduced to the wider public as "The Original Boogie-Woogie" by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra in 1938. Following World War II, Dorsey's recording became a best-seller and the tune was re-recorded by Bing Crosby. Joe Willie Perkins' 1950 re-recording became so famous that the singer's name changed to Pinetop Perkins. Over time, Perkins often received credit for originating Smith's tune.

A memorial to Smith, designed by sculptor Claes Oldenburg, was erected near the site of his death in 1967. Smith was posthumously inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991.


  • Du Noyer, Paul (2003) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music Fulham, London: Flame Tree Publishing ISBN 1904041965 p. 165
  • Edwards, James (Fall 2007) Western Pennsylvania History. pp. 6-7
  • Silvester, Peter J. (2009) The Story of Boogie-Woogie: A Left Hand Like God. 2nd ed. Scarecrow Press ISBN 0810869241

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