Words by: Brandon Simmons
R&B legend Huey Smith passed away at the age of 89. Known as “Piano,” Smith’s daughter confirmed that he died in his sleep on Tuesday. He has worked with many famous artists like Little Richard and Earl King. His 1950s hit, “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” is what Piano is most known for. Many future acts, such as Grateful Dead, Johnny Rivers, and Aerosmith, have sampled the song. This led him to form his group, Huey Smith and the Clowns.
Smith was known for being a boogie pianist as his sound introduced funk to the mainstream world. He played piano in the group while the Clowns sang, danced, and put on a show. There’s only one song in his career that he did not receive credit for. On the hit song “Sea Cruise,” Piano’s vocals were taken off the original music in place of Frankie Ford. President of Ace Records, Johnny Vincent, felt Ford, a white teenager, would sell more records than a black artist. It just so happens that “Don’t You Just Know It,” another hit from Smith, landed at the number nine spot on the charts, while “Sea Cruise” came in at 14.
The boogie pianist was born in the Garden District of New Orleans and died in Baton Rouge. His career was recognized when he received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award and the Big Easy Music Awards’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.