|Billie Goodson Pierce|
Portrait of Billie Goodson Pierce playing the piano with her husband in the background.
June 8, 1907|
September 29, 1974 (aged 67)|
New Orleans, Louisiana
|Jazz and blues pianist, singer, dancer|
Wilhelmina (Billie) Goodson was born on June 8, 1907 in her mother's hometown of Marianna, Florida, United States, and grew up in Pensacola, Florida. She was one of six piano-playing sisters (including Ida Goodson and Sadie Goodson) whose mother and father (Madison H. Goodson and Sarah Jenkins Goodson) also played the piano. There was a seventh daughter, Maggie, who died young. Billie was the second youngest of the girls; the order of the sisters from oldest to youngest went Mabel (b. 1899), Della (1901), Sadie (1903), Edna (1904), Billie (1907), and Ida (1909).
Goodson was never formally trained to read music. Both of her parents musicians, they played hymns and sang in the choir at the Baptist church where Madison Goodson was a Deacon. According to Billie, she was about two years old when she first started to play the piano.
Though her parents disapproved of ragtime, blues, and jazz, only playing religious music, Billie and her sisters were drawn to it. When Ms. Pierce was about ten years old, she and her sisters would go down to the Belmont Theater to listen to Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, and Bessie Smith when they passed through Pensacola, Florida. In 1922, when Ms. Pierce was almost thirteen, Bessie Smith passed through town again. Bessie's pianist, Clarence Williams, suffered a heart attack and Ms. Pierce subbed in to played piano with Bessie Smith for two weeks at the Belmont Theater.
At the age of 15, Pierce began playing piano professionally. Some accounts claim she toured with Gertrude "Ma" Rainey, however, during this time she was actually accompanying Ida Cox at the Belmont Theater. After her time accompanying Ms. Cox, Billie toured as a singer, dancer, and pianist. At the beginning of the 1920s, Billie would only accompany bands on the Florida leg of their tours. In 1929, she was working in a nine-piece band named the Nighthawks Orchestra in Birmingham, Alabama when she heard that her sister, Sadie, had fallen ill and needed a temporary replacement. Sadie and her husband, Abbey "Chinee" Foster on drums, in Buddy Petit's band on the SS Madison in New Orleans.
In the 1930s, she toured more widely with the Mighty Wiggle Carnival (owned by Jack Shaffer), Joe Jesse's orchestra, and her own touring review. After settling in New Orleans she played in the band of A.J. Piron, Alphonse Picou, Emile Barnes, and George Lewis.
In 1932, she played piano with Alphonse Picou's five-piece (along with Johnny Dave, banjo; Ernest Milton, drums; Picou, clarinet; Lawrence Toca trumpet) at the Rialto Nightclub on Jefferson Davis Parkway for a couple of years. She performed at the Blue Jay Club, where she met the trumpeter De De Pierce. From 1933 to 1934, she and De De were members of a band including clarinetist, George Lewis, at a dime-a-dance hall, the Kingfish.
The couple played with their own ensemble, which served as the house band at Luthjen's Dance Hall on and off for twenty-four years. Billie led the band with the piano and vocals. De De lost his vision due to glaucoma in the 1950s around the same time that Billie suffered a stroke, which paralyzed her for several months, putting a temporary hold on their career.
Their careers picked up again in the 1960s as Dixieland jazz experienced a revival. She was a regular on the New Orleans jazz scene in the 1950s through the early 1970s, playing in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.