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.

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