Friday, September 26, 2008

Beale Street - The Rebirth

1982 was the beginning of the rebirth of Beale Street. John Elkington headed the new commercial development, when at the time, there was only two businesses that were operating between Second and Fourth in the heart of the Beale Street district. Only one survived the decade. Only A. Schwab continued its century-long tradition of selling dry goods from the same storefront.

In 1983, Senator John Ford pushed a bill through that allowed alcoholic drink purchasers to buy a drink between Second and Fourth on Beale Street and legally carry it on the street. This helped in transforming Beale Street back to its earlier position as an entertainment center for the city. This measure allowed visitors and locals to enjoy the music and spirit in a more relaxed, carefree and open environment.

Another important decision made in 1983 was to allow businesses to be opened on Sunday. This made possible full weekend utilization of the entertainment district and allowed a more "inclusive" approach to Beale Street. Also, in 1987, a special board of the National Park Service voted to continue the Historic Landark status between Second and Fourth Streets.

Other attractions that helped in the rebirth of Beale Street was the moving of W.C. Handy's "shotgun" type home to Fourth and Beale and and the Walk-of-Fame with its notes than lined the sidewalks between Second and Fourth. Among the earliest honorees were W. C. Handy, Memphis Silm, Nat D. Williams, Furry Lewis and B. B. King.

In 1988, John Elkington summed up the goals of Beale Street as (1) Returning commerce to the street, (2) the street would become the music and entertainment center of the community and (3) it would be become a place where citizens of all races would be welcome.

It isn't hard to see the connection between Beale Street and the blues. Rural blacks came to the city to find work and less oppression. Their music traveled with them in their head, hands and hearts. A good example is that of B. B. King coming to Memphis to find his cousin, Bukka White.

The connection between the blues and rock 'n' roll is a little less obvious. Rock 'n' roll is what happened when whites tried to sing the blues. Rythm and blues is what happened when blacks speeded up the blues and added special touches. Stax Records became one of the foremost rythm and blues recording studios in the early 1960's with artists like Otis Redding, Issac Hayes and Rufus and Carla Thomas. None of this music would have happened if not for Beale Street

The buildings of Beale Street today include the folowing famous establishments: Alfred's on Beale, Alley Cats, A. Schwab, B.B, King's Blues Club, Beale Street Tap Room, The Black Diamond, Blues City Cafe and Band Box, Club 152, Dyer's Famous Hamburgers, Double Duece, Eel Etc. Fashions, Hard Rock Cafe, King's Palace Cafe, Memphis Music, Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, New Daisy Theatre, New York Pizza, Pat O'Briens, People's Billard Club, The Pig on Beale, Psychics of Beale Street, Rum Boogie Cafe, Shake Shack, Silky O Sullivan's, Strange Cargo, Tater Red's and Wet Willies

And if you want to experience a real "Blues Happening" visit Beale Street on May 1, 2 and 3, 2009 for the Beale Street Music Festival. It's the Mardi Gras of the Mid-South.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Beale Street - The Early Years

Prior to the 1860's, Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee was a residential area for middle-to-upper income whites, and where blacks worked as their house servants. But after the end of the Civil War, blacks came in increasing numbers to live on or near Beale Street, as many former slaves fled to relative freedom of the city rather than stay on the plantations.

After 1878, Memphis suffered greatly from cholera and yellow fever epidemics. But the African-American population continued to increase due to a lower death rate than the whites. The blacks also continued to live in town because they had nowhere else they could go.

Around 1890, the African-American population was 50% of the areas population. By this time, black Memphis now had its own commercial center - Beale Street. Though is was never fully complete, Beale Street became known as the "Main Street of black Memphis" by the 1890's.

One of the first to develop Beale Street as a black business center was Robert R. Church, who ran a saloon on Beale Street in the 1860's. He also bought up property, established businesses and sold property to blacks and whites who also wished to serve the growing African-American community in south Memphis. He also established a bank to primarily serve the local businesses and residents. Another great contribution by the Church family was "Church Park", six acres around the First Baptist Church, which included a 2,000 seat auditorium. It served as as a scene of school graduations, political events, dances and held large church meetings and conventions. It was replaced in 1929 with a smaller community center that continued to serve the above mentioned functions.

Around 1900, the ownership of local businesses spread to include Irish and Italian-Americans, and from the 1920's to the 1970's, a significant number of Beale Street businesses were owned and operated by Jewish-Americans. In 1898, a city public works project - Beale Street Market, brought about greater interaction among the local African-Americans and the new immigrants to this country. By 1910, a good-sized Italian population centered their businesses near the market. The "Market" was torn down in 1928 and the site converted to become W. C. Handy Park.

Saturday night was primarily the time for the hard-working African-Americans to "let off" a little steam. The bars and clubs stayed open as long as was allowed. Jam sessions by blues musicians were heard throughout the night and the entertainment ranged from fancy parties to wild and rowdy gambling and drinking establishments. Pee Wee's Saloon was where W. C. Handy did the orchestration for his first blues song, "Memphis Blues". He used a rented office on Beale Street to compose and write the lyrics to the that song and where he also composed his famous song "St. Louis Blues". Music echoed up and down the street almost any hour of the day or night. Without question, Saturday night was when the musicians played the loudest and longest.

From the 1890's to the 1940's the music was mostly the blues. More particularly, it was the Mississippi Delta blues. But even in the black community, there were many who opposed the blues and all its connections. Understandably, the ministers of the community opposed the late nights, the alcohol and the loose sexual behavior that went on around the blues joints of Beale Street. Plus, the money that was spent on Beale Street would never make it to the church coffers. Even middle and upper class blacks were as opposed to the goings-on of Beale Street because that was a reminder of all that they sought to avoid or get beyond.

One event on Beale Street that started in the great depression, the "Cotton Makers Jubilee" parade has continued into the latter part of the 20th Century. Black churches, schools and civic organizations competed on the march down Beale Street for prizes and other honors. In 1982, the "white" Cotton Carnival and the "black" Cotton Makers Jubilee parade joined together to become Carnival Memphis.

In this place, where many culture changes have been made, where cotton was king, "Beale Street" and the "Blues" have endured.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Delta Blues-Where the Music Meets the Soul

Delta Blues is one of the earliest styles of blues music. It originated in the Mississippi Delta, a region of the United States that stretches from Memphis in the north to Vicksburg in the south, the Mississippi River on the west to the Yazoo River on the east.

The Mississippi Delta was fertile ground for the roots of the blues. With its history of racial oppression, the Klu Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws, with baking heat, rampant poverty and illiteracy, the delta was a cruel place for many African-Americans well into the middle of the 20th Century.

The songs and music of the early Delta blues were passed down orally, in written form, and later preserved in field recordings made by traveling musicologists such as the father and son team of John and Alan Lomax in the early 1940's. The earliest blues recordings were made in the 1920's, but very little recording took place in the Mississippi Delta area. Delta blues musicians headed to northern cities for recording sessions, then headed back home to the Delta to continue playing juke joints, fish fries and dances.

The Delta area has produced the largest number of important and influencial blues artists. Although it was never a major center for the music business, its is still the emotional heart of the blues for musicians, travelers, fans and historians. Some of the more famous Delta blues musicians were Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Son House, Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Elmore James, Skip James, Willie Brown, Muddy Waters and Mississippi John Hurt, to name a few.

The defining characteristics of Delta blues is instrumentation and the emphasis on rhythm and "bottleneck" slide; but the basic harmonic structure is not substantially different from that of blues performed elsewhere. The vocal styles range from introspective and soulful to passionate and fiery. The early recordings consist mainly of one person singing and playing an instrument, though the use of a band was more common during live performances.

Take a trip through the Mississippi Delta region and as you travel through this historic area, see if you can feel the heart and heartbeat of the music, the people, the events and the culture that make up the Delta Blues..

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Father of the Blues - W.C.Handy

As stated in " Blues-Keeping the Faith ", W.C. Handy's role in the propagation of blues is not without controversy: his early status as "Father of the Blues" is a title he gave himself in his autobiography. In the decades since his death in 1958, there has begun to emerge constant scrutiny to the fact that he was an astute and sharp-eared musician/publisher who was sufficiently on the ball to incorporate blues elements into the music of his bands, collect blues materials in his travels and publish some of the earliest blues songs. Whether these were his own compositions or 'realized' and codified from melodies and samples he came across in his professional life is often a moot point, because it was a widespread practice of copyrighting the works of others in the first 40 years of 1900's.

Handy was born in Florence, Alabama and was trained at an early age to play a variety of instruments, specializing in the coronet. He was also trained to read and notate music and the basics of arranging. all thses skills were used as he began to earn a living with traveling minstrel shows, which was the principal means of entertainment for the common folks during those days. From 1896 to the mid-1900's he was a fixture in Mahara's Minstrels, running his own troupes.

A song written in 1908 as "Mr. Crump", was published in 1912 as "Memphis Blues" and became a huge success. Two years later came the classic "St. Louis Blues", which possibly Handy took the two simple melodies from folk sources and wove them into his own composition. Nevertheless, the song became immensley popular and helped launch a blues craze in the next 5 years.

During the 1920's and 1930's Handy ran his own business for a while and used a variety of orchestras, working wiht Jelly Roll Morton and later swing players J. C. Higginbotham and Big Sid Catlett. As he became out of step with performing practices and fashion, he concentrated on publishing and songwriting. This withdrawal from performance was confirmed by an accident which left him blind in 1943. He spent the rest of his life writing his autobiography, arranging publishing matters and being an elder statesman for his race and musical peers.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

W. C. Handy

W. C. Handy wrote St. Louis Blues, and his statue stands big and tall A Handy Park in Memphis, Tennessee, near the popular area known as Beale Street. handy is often called "The Father of the Blues."

But who was W. C. Handy, and how did get that title?

"The geography of the blues," Martin Scorsese, who produced a series of videos that chronicle the history of the blues, says "is both a route to a particular time and place as well as a road map to the human soul. The ability of the music to connect with universal feelings of desire, love, loss and bitter disappointment makes the music fertile soil."

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Beginning of the Blues

According to Wikipedia, the word "blues" is "a vocal and instrumental form of music, based on the use of the 'blue' notes. It emerged a......form of self-expression in African-American communities of the United States, from spirituals, work songs, 'field hollers', shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballards. The use of 'blue' notes and the prominance of 'call and response' patterns in the music and lyrics are indicative of African influence."

W. C. Handy has been called the "Father of the Blues."