The sound of Boogie-Woogie that influenced young Leiber and Stoller.


A young Jewish boy, Jerry Leiber, grew up in a neighborhood where he described, "Jews and African-Americans were disposable." Mike Stoller lived with a mother who suffered  from depression, and a father who worked two jobs, non-stop. And yet, while doing our dramaturgical work at Town Hall Theatre, we don't come across an ounce of bitterness or resentment in their autobiography, interviews or work that spans decades. We find two men, who's deepest memories are about the music that surrounded them. In their homes it was Gershwin or classical, but on the streets, in ethnically mixed summer camps and their everyday life of living on or near "the outskirts", they were surrounded by the sweet joy of Boogie Woogie, Blues and Gospel. They were surrounded by the true spirit of resistance to oppression through music and culture.

According to, "As America struggles to emerge from the Great Depression, a legend is born - well, not just one. 1933 marks the births of legendary songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. While the rest of the country is content to listen to Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls" and Bing Crosby's "White Christmas", these two young, white, Jewish boys feel the urge to 'boogie woogie'. "


On paper Boogie -woogie might look a little like this:


It is written in common time (4/4) time using eighth notes and typically a 12 bar tune. However notes on paper would not have been quite as inspiring as the sounds and feelings of Boogie -woogie heard by these young men.


Growing up in Baltimore and Queens, the sounds of Boogie Woogie were not far from home for Leiber and Stoller.

"Leiber, the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, was born in 1933 and grew up on the edge of Baltimore’s black ghetto. Stoller, also born in 1933, was raised in Queens, learning the basics of blues and boogie-woogie from African American kids at summer camp."

Leiber was an errand boy who delivered groceries to African American neighborhoods. "I became part of their families. Inside those households, radios were always playing. Music was everywhere. Music was running through my head and coursing through my veins. My heart was flooded with Boogie-woogie."  (Leiber, J., Ritz, D. & Stoller, M., 2009) states, "Boogie Woogie was the first and to date the only exclusively piano music to issue from the blues. Boogie Woogie, a term used to describe the blues piano playing that thrived roughly between the years 1920 and 1945, was a highly popular music in tenements. The very name Boogie was another name for the "house rent party." Both terms describe a phenomenon that took place in the crowded tenements of Chicago, Detroit, New York, and virtually every city with a large black population. Because poverty was a way of life, black people learned quickly to depend on each other to band together and to work toward common goals. One such goal was that of simply being able to pay the rent. With unemployment at a normally high level (at least for blacks), men long accustomed to surviving under the most adverse conditions ingeniously devised a technique that served the combined purposes of raising the rent and providing a means of social intercourse."

Stoller, who was studying classical piano early on, even had access to James P. Johnson, Fats Waller's mentor and a phenomenal composer and stride pianist. Stoller was heard making attempts at Boogie -woogie by his neighbor, the neighbor mentions he knows Johnson and would Stoller like lessons?  Stoller said of this experience, "Music was purely visceral. I heard the lyricism of Richard Strauss, I felt the elegance of Bach, but boogie-woogie really reached my eight-year-old soul." (Leiber, J., Ritz, D. & Stoller, M., 2009) Almost simultaneously while Stoller takes up lessons with Johnson, in Baltimore, Jerry Leiber gets caught learning Boogie -woogie from a tenant in his building.

"But Jerry's uncle kicks the 9-year-old off the piano for playing it while Mike takes lessons from Fats Waller's mentor! Fast-forward to 1950, when their mutual love of boogie woogie and rhythm and blues brings them together to become the most influential songwriting team in rock & roll history."



Leiber, J., Ritz, D. & Stoller, M. (2009) Hound Dog: The Leiber and Stoller Autobiography. Simon & Schuster.