Boogie Woogie

What is boogie woogie?

Boogie Woogie is a term used to describe the blues piano playing that was highly popular between 1920 and 1945. This style of music took off in crowded, poor neighborhoods and apartment buildings called tenements.


Where does the name come from?

The name "boogie" was another name for the "house rent party."  In Chicago, Detroit, New York, and virtually every city with a large black population poverty was a way of life.  Black people learned quickly to depend on each other to band together and to work toward common goals--like paying the rent.

(If you listen to Donna Oxford's boogie below, she says it's called the boogie woogie because the left plays the boogie and the right plays the woogie!)

What's a house rent party?

The "House Rent Party" or "The Boogie" was a party given by a tenant as a means of raising money to pay the rent. For the nominal sum of "two bits" or "four bits" (or pennies), fellow neighbors were treated to

  • an evening of boogie woogie piano by some local hero at the keys

  • some southern culinary treat such as catfish and Kentucky oysters

  • as well as some "hangin' out."

Of course, neighbors helped each other - "you come help me pay my rent and I'll come help you pay yours."

Where did boogie woogie get started?

This style of piano playing was born in Marshall, Texas alongside the Texas and Pacific Railroad.

Listen to the first 2 minutes to learn how it spread across the states.

What are some more facts about boogie woogie?

  • It was usually played on poor instruments and unschooled instrumentalists.

  • Volume was produced by physical strength.

  • Form was always a blues; songs had no real beginning or ending, much like African music.

  • Emphasis is on rhythm rather than melody.

  • Return to breaks to create tension and to rest the left hand.

  • The left hand, which never varied, could have been an outgrowth of "stride" piano.

  • Boogie Woogie patterns were personalized much like the field hollers and hawking cries.

  • The left hand ostinato (a repeated figure) served as a forerunner of rhythm and blues.

  • Percussive and rugged.

  • Uneven and unpredictable.

  • The father of rock and roll

Who are some of the famous boogie woogie players?

  • Meade Lux Lewis

  • Albert Ammons

  • Cripple Clarence Lofton

  • Jimmy Yancey

  • Sugar Chile Robinson.

Much of this information was borrowed from this website: JazzInAmerica and Boogiewoogiemarshall.com.

Check out some of these electrifying performances!

As you watch each performance, listen for the following 

  • the introduction

  • the changes in chords (see chord chart below)

  • the turn arounds (where it loops back to the start)

  • the breaks (where the left stops playing)

  • how many loops the performer makes around the chart

Answer these questions on a piece of paper

1.  Boogie woogie was born in what town in Texas?

2. Name one famous boogie woogie player?

3. Why did boogie woogie become popular in poor neighborhoods in big cities?

4. Which one was your favorite boogie woogie performance?

#1 Mead Lux

#2 Johan Blohm

#3 Three Piano Dudes

#4 Dona Oxford

88 Piano Keys can Boogie, too!

Ms Leila's try at boogie woogie:

 Rylan's "Drummer Boy Boogie" he created for the 88 Piano Keys Christmas Recital, 2015.

Here's a student of Bradley Sowash jammin' in a boogie style.