Huey “Piano” Smith, New Orleans Legend Who Pioneered Funk, Dead At 89

Smith’s best-known hits include “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It,” and “Sea Cruise.”

Huey "Piano" Smith

Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Huey “Piano” Smith, the New Orleans rhythm-and-blues pianist whose funny rock n' roll hits dominated the charts in the 1950s, died Monday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was 89. 

Smith, who moved from New Orleans to Baton Rouge in the early 1980s, died peacefully in his sleep, his oldest daughter Acquelyn Donsereaux confirmed to The Advocate.

“He just slept away,” Donsereaux told the outlet. “Daddy was the most positive person I know. Easy going and funny. He was a comedian until the last couple of hours.”

Smith was born on January 26, 1934, and grew up in New Orleans’ Garden District, where he learned to play boogie piano from a neighbor. Smith became a regular performer at the Dew Drop in the early 1950s, performing with Smiley Lewis, Earl King, and Shirley and Lee. An accomplished session player, he played for recordings by Lewis, King, Lloyd Price, Little Richard, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn and many others. 

Credited with helping introduce New Orleans funk to the world, Smith’s pioneering hits include “Rocking Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu,” “Don’t You Just Know It,” and “Sea Cruise,” which was unfairly credited to Frankie Ford. Art Garfunkel reportedly listed “Sea Cruise” among the 10 songs that changed his life. “For me, it was the door opening to rock ’n’ roll,” Garfunkel famously said. 

Speaking with, Smith’s protégé, Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John, credited the late trailblazer “with opening the door to funk, basically as we know it, in some ridiculously hip way, and putting it in the mainstream of the world’s music.”

Rest in peace, Huey.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles