Songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, composers of some of the greatest blues, jazz, R&B, and rock and roll hits of all time, will be inducted into the American Jazz Walk of Fame in Kansas City, MO on Saturday, June 2. Their names will be embedded in a bronze medallion on the sidewalk near the Jazz Museum.
Their 1952 song classic “(Going to) Kansas City” is now considered to be the city’s anthem. Stoller will attend the ceremony with his wife of 48 years, pianist-harpist-singer Corky Hale. Leiber died in 2011. Leiber and Stoller began their 60-year partnership in 1950, when they were both 17. By the age of 20, they had seen their songs recorded by such artists as Jimmy Witherspoon, Little Esther Phillips, Charles Brown, Little Willie Littlefield, and Ray Charles.
The big hits began with Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton’s recording of “Hound Dog” in 1953, which caught the attention of Atlantic Records. In 1955, Atlantic signed them to an independent production deal, which forever changed the course of the record industry. Major chart hits included Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and “I (Who Have Nothing)”; The Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby,” “Dance With Me” and “On Broadway”; La Vern Baker’s “Saved” and Ruth Brown’s “Lucky Lips”. Above all, they wrote and produced all of the hits for the Coasters, including “Searchin’,” “Young Blood,” “Yakety Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” “Along Came Jones,” “Poison Ivy,” and “Little Egypt.
While Leiber and Stoller were producing the Clovers (“Love Potion #9”), Jay and the Americans (“Only in America”) and Chuck Jackson (“I Keep Forgettin'”), other artists were enjoying such hits by the team as Wilbert Harrison’s “Kansas City,” Dion’s “Ruby Baby” and “Drip Drop,” and Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman”.
They also produced Lee’s “Fever” and wrote and produced her later hit, “Is That All There Is?”. Elvis Presley became a household name with his cover recording of “Hound Dog” and went on to record more than 20 Leiber-Stoller songs including “Jailhouse Rock,” “Loving You,” “Love Me,” “Treat Me Nice,” “Don’t,” “(You’re So Square) Baby, I Don’t Care,” “Bossa Nova Baby,” “She’s Not You,” “Trouble,” and “Santa Claus is Back in Town.”
They were previously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and have had their songs recorded by nearly every famous performer in the business, among them the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Barbra Streisand, Buddy Holly, B.B. King, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Luther Vandross, John Lennon, Aretha Franklin, Jimi Hendrix, Tom Jones, Edith Piaf and over a thousand others.
Their 1995 musical “Smokey Joe’s Café: The Songs of Leiber and Stoller,” comprising 40 of their songs, ran for more than five years, becoming the longest-running musical revue on Broadway. It earned seven Tony nominations and won the Grammy for best Original Cast Album. They also wrote a best-selling memoir entitled “Hound Dog,” published by Simon and Schuster in 2009, and still in print.
Stoller continues to write and is actively working on several new projects, including a revival of “Smokey Joe’s Café.” He and his wife are prominent participants in many public causes and they were recently honored by the naming of the Mike Stoller and Corky Hale Stoller Civil Rights Memorial Theater in Montgomery, AL.