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Sat, 06.08.1907

Wilhelmina M. Goodson, Pianist, and Singer born

Wilhelmina Goodson

*Wilhelmina Madison Goodson was born on this date 1907. She was a Black jazz pianist and singer.

Known professionally as Billie Pierce, Wilhelmina (Billie) Goodson was born in Marianna, Florida, and grew up in Pensacola, Florida. She was one of six piano-playing sisters (including Ida Goodson and Sadie Goodson) whose father, Madison H. Goodson, and mother, 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. Her parents played hymns and sang in the choir at the Baptist church where Madison Goodson was a Deacon. 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 Billie was about ten years old, she and her sisters would go down to the Belmont Theatre to listen to Ma RaineyIda Cox, and Bessie Smith when they passed through Pensacola, Florida.

In 1922, when Pierce was almost thirteen, Bessie Smith passed through town again. Her pianist, Clarence Williams, suffered a heart attack, and Pierce subbed in to play piano with Smith for two weeks at the Belmont Theatre. At 15 (in 1922), Pierce began playing piano professionally. During this time, she was accompanying Ida Cox at the Belmont Theatre. After her time with Cox, she 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 worked 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. On drums, Sadie and her husband, Abbey "Chinee" Foster, in Buddy Petit's band on the SS Madison in New Orleans.

Pierce settled in New Orleans in 1930. By the 1930s, she led a four-piece group at the Kingfish (also known as the Pig Pen). Pierce toured more widely with the Mighty Wiggle Carnival (owned by Jack Shaffer), Joe Jesse's orchestra, and her touring review. 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 trumpeter De De Pierce, who was playing with a band led by Billie's sister at Mama's and Papa's, a nearby club.

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. Billie and De De married on March 28, 1935, at St. Peter Claver Church. The first was recorded with Emile Barnes in 1946 (issued in 1997) and under her name in 1953. Billie and De De Pierce played as the house band at Luthjen's Dance Hall on and off for 24 years. Billie led the bar with the piano and vocals. De De lost his vision due to glaucoma in the 1950s and when 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 played on the New Orleans jazz scene through the early 1970s, playing in the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Billie Pierce died on September 29, 1974, in New Orleans, Louisiana, at 67. 

To Become a musician or Singer

Reference:

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