Willie "the Lion" Smith

image for Willie "the Lion" Smith
Exhibition Label
Willie "The Lion" Smith was a jazz pianist, songwriter, and raconteur at the center of the vibrant New York music scene for a half century. At first a successful ragtime pianist on the East Coast, Smith fought in World War I with the famous Harlem Hellfighters division. In the 1920s The Lion, James P. Johnson, and Fats Waller formed an unholy trinity of New York City pianist-composers who created the tempo and dances of the time. Duke Ellington apprenticed to his musical leadership and stride style, and a young George Gershwin absorbed jazz sitting under Smith’s piano at Harlem rent parties. The Lion evoked his time in several later records and in his memoir, Music on My Mind (1964). His style is ingrained in jazz iconography, as can be seen here: relaxed at the piano in his trademark derby and with his cigar, he awaits the night’s crowd and warms up the keyboard.
Arnold A. Newman, 3 Mar 1918 - 6 Jun 2006
William Henry Smith, Nov 1897 - Apr 1973
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of Arnold Newman
Restrictions & Rights
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
1960 (printed later)
Object number
Music\Musical instrument\Piano
Home Furnishings\Furniture\Seating\Chair
Costume\Dress Accessory\Eyeglasses
Home Furnishings\Furniture\Table
Equipment\Smoking Implements\Cigarette
Home Furnishings\Lighting Devices\Spot Light
Equipment\Smoking Implements\Cigarette holder
William Henry Smith: Male
William Henry Smith: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Composer
William Henry Smith: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Pianist
William Henry Smith: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Jazz
United States\New York\Kings\New York
Gelatin silver print
Image: 32.8 x 21.8 cm (12 15/16 x 8 9/16")
Sheet: 35.4 x 27.7 cm (13 15/16 x 10 7/8")
Mat: 55.9 x 40.6 cm (22 x 16")
National Portrait Gallery