Marblehead — Leonard M. Sogoloff, the owner and founder of “Lennie’s on the Turnpike,” the iconic North Shore jazz club that introduced Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Buddy Rich, and an aspiring young comic named Jay Leno to local audiences, died Saturday, July 12, 2014, at Devereux House in Marblehead. He was 90.
He was the beloved husband of the late Barbara Ann (Raby) Sogoloff, with whom he had shared 37 years of marriage.
Born in Peabody, he was the son of the late Samuel and Sonia (Sandler) Sogoloff, immigrants from Russia. He attended Peabody schools and was a graduate of Peabody High School, Class of 1941. He briefly studied art at Boston University, before enlisting in the Army. He proudly served his country during World War II, attaining the rank of Private First Class. He was honorably discharged on April 1, 1946.
He returned home to Peabody, and became a record salesman for Columbia Records. In 1951, he joined a friend to open The Turnpike Club, a roadside bar on Route 1 North in West Peabody. From a young age, he had a passion for jazz. He stocked the jukebox with the hottest artists of the era.
Two years later, Lennie bought out his partner, renamed the venue “Lennie’s on the Turnpike, A Jazz Listening Room,” and introduced live music. Over the years, he brought the bespoke greatest names in jazz, to the North Shore. The club became a destination, drawing audiences from throughout Greater Boston. The club operated until its closing in September of 1972.
Later, Lennie’s branched out by booking acts of other musical genres, such as America, Linda Rondstadt and Bette Midler, assisted by a piano player named Barry Manilow, as well as comedians such as Rodney Dangerfield and Flip Wilson.
In 1972, Lennie hired Jay Leno, who lived in Andover, to be his house comedian. It was the start of a long friendship. In 2009, as he prepared to step down as host of The Tonight Show, Mr. Leno performed at Salem State University Speaker Series at a benefit to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Barbara Ann Sogoloff. The event raised $100,000 for a scholarship, which now funds endowments in each of their names.