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The Centennial of Meade "Lux" Lewis


          This year, the American Music Research Foundation celebrates the centennial of one of the biggest names in Boogie history, Meade Anderson "Lux(embourg)" Lewis.  Born on September 3, 1905, Lewis was inspired by legendary Clarence "Pinetop" Smith and Jimmy Yancey.  Lewis shared a friendship with two of Boogie-Woogie's other cornerstone players, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons.  With Johnson and Ammons, a fellow Chicago taxi driver, Lewis rocked many pianos in the mid-20's.
          In 1927, Lewis recorded his famous "Honky Tonk Train Blues", a classic that would be reproduced by nearly every Boogie player to follow.  The "Honky Tonk Train Blues" has a slow, rhythmic left hand that rests in one place, mimicking the sound of a train chugging along its tracks, while the right hand reproduces a starting whistle, bridge crossings, whistle conversations, and finally the slow descent of the train pulling into a station.
          When Lewis released the solo record two years later, a new name had been found for his style.  Clarence "Pinetop" Smith's 1928 "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie" was the first known coinage of the title "Boogie Woogie."  Smith's song was a faster-paced Boogie than Lewis's, and surpassed it in popularity.
          With the Great Depression came a great decline of Boogie-Woogie's popularity.  Lewis couldn't make enough money playing piano, and fell back onto side jobs to make ends meet.  In 1935, Lewis was found washing cars by the New York record producer and critic John Hammond.  Hammond, inspired by his discovery of the young Billie Holiday and his work with artists like Fletcher Henderson, Bessie Smith and Benny Goodman, was on a mission to bring black music into the limelight.  Hammond was gathering all of the best black American artists he could find to play in his "Spirituals to Swing" concert at Carnegie Hall.
          On December 23, 1938, Meade "Lux" Lewis joined his friends Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson on stage, along with shouter Big Joe Turner, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Bennie Goodman sextet, vocalist Rubie Smith (the recently deceased Bessie's niece), and Sister Rosetta Tharpe, among others.  The concert was an unmitigated success, blowing the minds of the white New Yorkers who came to see Carnegie Hall's first ever presentation of black American music.  The audience went wild for the three Boogie piano players, launching a huge nation-wide Boogie-Woogie craze that would last into the early 50's.
          After the 1938 concert, Lewis, Ammons and Johnson, along with Big Joe Turner, settled into an extended engagement at the Cafe Society in New York, often playing "train wrecks" with two and three pianos at once.  Lewis continued to tour and record into the early 60's, joining sessions sometimes on celeste and harpsichord.  Though Boogie-Woogie fell out of fashion, Lewis held his left-hand chords through the development of jump blues and rock and roll, living proof of his genre's foundational influence on later music.  Lewis died in a fatal car crash in Minnesota on June 7, 1964.

-Contributed by Britt Harwood

Boogie Woogie  


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