With his derby and cigar, along with his command of
counterpoint and swing, Willie "The Lion" Smith was one
of the jazz world's outsized characters. Bravery during
World War I earned him his nickname; friendship and
mutual admiration led to Duke Ellington's "Portrait of The
Lion" and Smith's own "Portrait of Duke."
William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff was born in
Goshen, N.Y., on Nov. 25, 1897. Growing up in Newark,
he began playing at age 6, drawn to the piano by his
mother's playing in church. His father's Jewish ancestry
later led to work as a cantor, he claimed, during the '40s.
In 1916, Willie enlisted in the Army where he became the
drum major for his unit