Willie "The Lion" Smith Biography

William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith, 25 November 1897, Goshen, New York, USA, d. 18 April 1973, New York City, New York, USA. Smith began playing piano at the age of six, encouraged by his mother. He continued with his informal musical education and by his mid-teenage years had established a formidable reputation in New York as a ragtime pianist. During World War I Smith acquired his nickname, apparently through acts of great heroism. In the post-war years he quickly developed into one of Harlem’s best-known and feared stride pianists. Despite his popularity in Harlem and the respect of his fellow musicians, including Fats Waller, James P. Johnson and Duke Ellington, he made few records and remained virtually unknown outside the New York area. In the 40s he travelled further afield, and during the 50s and 60s gradually extended his audience, playing and reminiscing at the keyboard, and recording albums that demonstrated his commanding style.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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