The Blues are alive and well in St. Louis, Missouri. In May 2015, St. Louis will become home to the first National Blues Museum. The city has long been home to many jazz and blues bar venues. Some more famous locations to soak up the St. Louis’ blues include Broadway Oyster Bar, Beale on Broadway, Backstreet Jazz and Blues Club, BB’s Jazz, and Blues and Soups, which has emerged as a popular after-gig hangout for local blues musicians. Chuck Berry, who evolved out of the St. Louis blues scene to become an early pioneer of rock and roll music, continues to perform at Blueberry Hill, the third Wednesday of each month. St. Louis’ beloved hockey team is even named the St. Louis “Blues.”
Blues music is believed to have emerged around 1890, as a distinctive African-American art form. Historians speculate the characteristic blues style evolved from the memory of slavery and slave culture, drawing on black tradition, work songs and hollers. The songs express “feeling blue,” often centering on grieving past loves, recalling injustice and tragedy, or yearning for better times. Conversely, Blues music also celebrates pride, success and culture through expressive dance. The music is usually, though not always, structured in a 12-chord progression, with three-line AAB stanzas. Several regional styles of Blues music developed over the course of the 20th century; with St. Louis Blues music being typically more piano-based.
While Missouri has a stake in the claim of “birthplace of the blues,” the state shares this claim with many other states, including Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The earliest reports of Blues music occurred at around the same time in all of these locations, beginning in the early 1900’s. Austin, Memphis, and New Orleans are all cities, like St. Louis, that celebrate the music’s storied history. So why St. Louis?
The project is as much about smart business and urban planning as it is about pride in the Blues. “An aspect of it is why is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland?” said developer of the project, Amos Harris in an interview with CBS St. Louis. “Because they decided they wanted to do it there. It’s not because rock and roll originated in Cleveland or rock ‘n roll has any particularly deep roots in Cleveland. But they got their act together, and that’s what we’re doing here.”
The National Blues Museum will be located at the corner of Sixth Street and Washington in the heart of St. Louis’ downtown area. The website for the future museum promises “The facility will educate guests in an entertaining environment that includes high impact technology-driven experiences.” The 23,000 square foot space will include a 100-seat theater, “The Blues Lab,” with interactive technology and recording stations, and an Icon/Legends timeline exhibit.
In early stages, the museum gained the attention of supporters such as Buddy Guy, Robert Cray and Derek Trucks, and John Goodman, to achieve the $13 million needed to begin construction. While it is impossible to predict the success of the museum, the project has already demonstrated steadfast dedication to St. Louis’ rapidly changing downtown and is now anticipating the first visitors this spring.
Are there any successful museums in your community? What makes a museum successful? Share your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Credits: Images by Lindsay Naughton. Data linked to sources.