Most people of a certain age will know the tunes: “Love Potion Number 9,” “Hound Dog,” and “Stand By Me.” The man behind that music was Jerry Leiber. He died today in Los Angeles at 78.
With his composing partner Mike Stoller, Leiber conquered the rhythm-and-blues charts, the popular imagination and Broadway over six decades. The two, born about a month apart, began writing in the early 1950s when they were still in high school in L.A.
The two were among the earliest white songwriters who focused on black music and musicians. Leiber said his time growing up in Los Angeles and Baltimore contributed to his fascination with the genre. "Irving Berlin was the greatest songwriter of all time," Leiber told The Los Angeles Times' "West" magazine in 2006. "I was in awe of him. But his music wasn't my music. My music was the blues."
The performers behind Leiber and Stoller's hits included the Coasters, the Drifters, and Big Mama Thornton, whose recording of “Hound Dog” became an even bigger hit when Elvis Presley recorded it. The duos later work included “Is That All There Is?” for Peggy Lee and the rock ditty “Stuck in the Middle with You.”
A compilation of their best, “Smokey Joe’s Café,” helped introduce the jukebox musical to Broadway; it ran for more than 2,000 performances and won a Grammy for best musical show album in 1996. In a testament to their staying power, American Idol devoted a program to Leiber and Stoller’s hits this May.
Leiber was born in Baltimore in 1933; his parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland.
A earlier version of this story misspelled Jerry Leiber's name.