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George W. Thomas & Boogie-Woogie Music

George W. Thomas was the first to publish boogie-woogie songs, which were key in the development of Country Music, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll music.

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George W. Thomas Jr. was born on March 9, 1883 to Fannie Bradley and George Washington Thomas, Sr. in Plum Bayou, Arkansas, near Pine  Bluff. Thomas was the second eldest of thirteen children. In the late 1890s, the family moved to Houston, Texas where Thomas Sr. was a deacon at the Shiloh Baptist Church and where Thomas Jr. learned to play music. He also learned about music outside of the church environment. Thomas and his musically talented younger brother and sister, Hersal and Sippie Wallace would sneak out of their house and follow the ragtime music to the local traveling tent shows. There they listened to Blues singers and became acquainted with its style and sound. 

In 1903, Thomas married Octavia Malone. In 1904, Malone gave birth to their daughter Hociel and died soon after. Hociel was raised by her grandmother Fannie Bradley and her aunt Sippie Wallace while Thomas pursued his musical career.Thomas, an accomplished pianist was providing music for silent films and theatrical performances, and playing at parties and juke joints. 

In 1910, he befriended Clarence Williams, a fellow musician in the theater circuit and the owner of a publishing company. By 1911, Thomas had ventured into composing, marrying his Blues and ragtime inspired music with dance-driven rhythms. During this time he wrote and performed, Hop Scop Blues, the first song with a boogie-woogie style bass line. 

By 1914. Thomas and Williams had moved to New Orleans, where Thomas continued to compose, joined Williams in publishing music, and performed at chitlin struts, (parties held by African Americans during segregation). In 1916, Thomas’ popularity grew after he published the New Orleans Hop Scop Blues, a reimagining of the Hop Scop Blues song he wrote years before. In 1919, he wrote  Muscle Shoals Blues before moving to Chicago in 1920. By 1920, Thomas was the sole proprietor of the George W. Thomas Music Publishing House as Williams had moved to Chicago. In 1921, Thomas published Muscle Shoals Blues, a lively ragtime song with a boogie-woogie bass line. 

In 1921, Thomas and Hersal introduced the north to the boogie-woogie piano with their song The Fives, which inspired musicians like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, Clarence Lofton who borrowed from Thomas’ style.

In 1923, Thomas published The Rocks, the first boogie-woogie song and his most famous composition. That year, Sippie and Hersal moved to Chicago, where Thomas helped them meet Ralph Peer, the general manager of OKeh Records. Three months after signing with OKeh Records, Sippie became a well known Blues star.

In 1926, Hersal suddenly passed away right before his twentieth birthday. Thomas wrote and published They Needed a Piano Player in Heaven So They Sent for Hersal , a tribute to Hersal’s life and legacy.

By the late 1920s to mid-1930s, Thomas’ composing and publishing declined, as he released fewer and fewer songs. In March of 1937, Thomas died just a few days before his 54th birthday, after falling down a flight of stairs. He was credited with over 100 compositions, including numerous boogie-woogie songs which were key in the development of Country Music, Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll.


Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard

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