||According to oral tradition and documented evidence, the Boogie Woogie musical genre, with its driving, iconic left-hand rhythm, originated in the area of Marshall, Harrison County, in the early 1870s. During that decade, Marshall became the headquarters of the Texas & Pacific Railway Company and a hub for railroad transportation of cotton, timber and passengers, creating employment for recently emancipated African American laborers. Many African Americans worked in logging camps cutting trees and loading logs for locomotives to haul to sawmills, and most logging camps had a piano in the barrel house to keep the workers entertained and in the camps at night.
It was in these barrel houses of East Texas logging camps where the first Boogie Woogies were played as largely untrained piano players developed techniques to entertain working-class audiences under loud, chaotic and often dangerous conditions. The driving left-hand bass patterns that are uniquely characteristic of Boogie Woogie piano, so highly suggestive of a steam locomotive chugging over iron rails, clearly are inspired and influenced by the sounds of the logging camp and the rail yard.
Itinerant piano players rode the rails, often performing in exchange for free rides, and the music traveled with them, first to red-light districts of Texarkana and Shreveport, followed by Houston and New Orleans, then gradually reaching African American neighborhoods in St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. Brothers George and Hersal Thomas were among the first to publish sheet music for Boogie Woogie, which they said they first heard in East Texas. Boogie Woogie masters Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, Floyd Dixon and Dave Alexander (Omar Sharriff) grew up in the Marshall area. An East Texas original, Boogie Woogie may still be found in many genres of music today. (2013)