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 Clarence “Pine Top” Smith

Clarence “Pine Top” Smith

Birth
Troy, Pike County, Alabama, USA
Death 15 Mar 1929 (aged 25)
Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Burial Alsip, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Memorial ID 10654 · View Source
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Entertainer. A vaudeville pianist, he popularized the boogie-woogie style of playing with his seminal 1929 hit record "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie". It marked the first time that colorful term appeared in print. He was on the cusp of fame when his life was tragically cut short at 25. Smith was born in Troy, Alabama, and raised in Birmingham. From around 1920 he was based in Pittsburgh and toured the South with vaudeville and minstrel shows as a dancer, singer and comedian; among the artists he performed with was Ma Rainey. Later he focused on his skills as a fast-blues pianist. In 1928 Smith moved to Chicago and quickly won notice performing at speakeasies and rent parties. On the recommendation of pianist Cow Cow Davenport he was given a shot by Vocalion Records in early December. His first three recording sessions were aborted, but on December 28 he went back into the studio and struck gold with "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie". This was pure barrelhouse dance music, with Smith shouting commands to the dancers over his raucous piano: "I don't want you to move a peg!" "Mess around!" "Shake that thing!" Released two months later, it became the first bona fide boogie-woogie hit. Smith had little chance to savor his celebrity. On the night of March 14, 1929, he was appearing at a Chicago dance hall when gunfire erupted during a fracas. He caught a stray bullet and died the next day, leaving a wife, two children, and 11 recorded tracks. His other songs include "Pine Top Blues", "I'm Sober Now", and "Jump Steady Blues". After its original pressings sold out "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" became a collector's item, especially prized by musicians. Tommy Dorsey had a monster hit with his 1938 big band cover version, touching off the boogie-woogie craze that swept the nation through the early 1940s and fixing the term in the American vernacular. In the late 1960s pop artist Claes Oldenburg proposed a fanciful (and unrealized) monument to Pine Top Smith in Chicago. Some kind of memorial would be in order: there are no known photographs of Smith and his grave in Restvale Cemetery is unmarked.

Bio by: Bobb Edwards


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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 10 Jul 2000
  • Find A Grave Memorial 10654
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Clarence “Pine Top” Smith (11 Jan 1904–15 Mar 1929), Find A Grave Memorial no. 10654, citing Restvale Cemetery, Alsip, Cook County, Illinois, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .