As half of the famous Leiber & Stoller songwriting and producing partnership, Jerry Leiber virtually defined the way popular music sounded in the early '60s.
His songs, such as "Hound Dog," "Yakety Yak," and "Jailhouse Rock," are clever and humorous lyrical vignettes that have been played millions of times and virtually been absorbed into the cultural consciousness. Born in Baltimore, when Leiber was five his widowed mother opened a grocery store near the black ghetto. It was there that he became fascinated with black culture, absorbing himself in the black community's music, dress, and attitude. In his teens the family moved to California where the bebop jazz movement was in full swing. At 16 Leiber began writing blues lyrics and, soon after, met pianist Mike Stoller. Leiber was the most outgoing of the two and his hipster jive and frenetic energy motivated the naturally withdrawn Stoller to begin writing songs together. For the next ten years the songwriting team of Leiber & Stoller virtually ruled the R&B and pop charts. After hitting with "Hound Dog" (recorded first by Big Mama Thornton, then by Elvis), the team signed with Atlantic Records and began writing for groups such as the Coasters and the Drifters. While Stoller supplied the music, it was Leiber who penned the outrageously entertaining lyrics. From the tongue-in-cheek humor of "Down Home Girl" to the poetic beauty of "Spanish Harlem," Leiber's lyrics set out to capture the essence of the black experience in America, and, in many ways, he accomplished that goal, creating a lyrical body of work rivaled by very few. Jerry Leiber died of heart failure in Los Angeles on August 22, 2011; he was 78 years old. ~ Steve Kurutz, Rovi