The Composition That Established Boogie-woogie: The Fives

Boogie-woogie piano music would always remain a Texas tradition, but its music hub would become Chicago. In 1921, George Washington Jr. Thomas and Hersal Thomas moved to Chicago and, they introduced the north to the boogie-woogie piano. The two brothers were both acknowledged pianists and composers with a strong influence on other musicians. Their composition The Fives was an inspiration for many musicians who would further shape the genre.

Following the death of his father, George Thomas became the head of the Tomas family and, he decided to move to Chicago. He was joined by his sister Beulah Belle Thomas (who would later record under the name Sippie Wallace) and his younger brother Hersal Thomas. When George Thomas arrived in Chicago, he recorded his earlier compositions together with his sister, brother, and some local musicians.

The copyright of The Fives was registered in 1921 and both George and Hersal Thomas are credited as the composers. The song was officially published by George Thomas’ publishing company in 1922.

The lyrics, written by George, are about a train ride between Chicago and San Francisco. According to Peter Silvester’s research for his book A Study Of Boogie-Woogie, the number refers to the arrival time in San Francisco. Although, it could also refer to the walking baseline for which the first and fifth fingers are used predominantly.

Publication of The Fives (1922)

The cover, upon publication, features a picture of the blues singer Lizzie Miles assuming she would feature on the recording. However, no recordings with her were discovered. A possible explanation could be that these recordings were never released and got lost. The photo was kept solely for marketing and sales purposes. In those days, pianists were rarely displayed on the cover.

Hersal Thomas (piano roll) – The Fives

The song is considered the first published representation of boogie-woogie piano music. Although it was written as a ragtime dance rhythm, it contains pronounced boogie-woogie interactions. It features various boogie-woogie base patterns, including walking baselines or walking octave chords. Also, the quivers used in the composition are typical for boogie-woogie.

The Fives established the genre thanks to the effect it had on many Chicago-based musicians. Boogie-woogie pioneers Albert Ammons and Meade ‘Lux’ Lewis both credit the songs as their source of inspiration while learning to play piano and further shaping the genre. Still today, musicians are using the many boogie-woogie base patterns from this song.

Hersal Thomas (left) & George Thomas (right)

Have a look at our previous articles about boogie-woogie: