Explore St. Louis

National Blues Museum Opens in St. Louis

From Ma Rainey to B.B. King, The National Blues Museum honors and celebrates this distinctly American musical form.

The National Blues Museum made its debut April 2, 2016, in downtown St. Louis with a musical procession from Sixth and Washington to the front door of the museum (615 Washington Ave.) at 9:30 am. After remarks by Board Chairman Rob Endicott, Executive Director Dion Brown and St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, the museum opened to the public at 10 am, kicking off a full day of live music in the institution’s performance space by such artists as Phi, David Dee, The Jeremiah Johnson Band, Marquise Knox, Jim Mclaren, Mickey Rogers and Renee Smith. Years in the making, the National Blues Museum honors and celebrates a distinctly American and extraordinarily influential musical form, with deep roots in a centuries-old African-American culture.

Opening galleries at the National Blues Museum
Opening galleries at the National Blues Museum (©V-3 Studios)

Deceptively simple in structure, a blues song generally adheres to the so-called AAB pattern: a line is sung over the four first bars, repeated over the next four and then a longer finishing line is sung over the last bars. The structure, as disciplined as haiku, has yet served the musical expression of an astonishing array of artists, from Ma Rainey, W.C. Handy and Bessie Smith to Chuck Berry, Janis Joplin and the incomparable B.B. King, all of them celebrated in the NBM.

The Suitcase Wall at the National Blues Museum
The Suitcase Wall at the National Blues Museum (©V-3 Studios)

Blues aficionados will find much to love in the artifact-rich, beautifully designed museum, but even nonfans can get a deeper understanding of role the blues played in American history, and the plethora of interactive exhibits that let visitors write their own blues lyrics, play along with jug-band instruments and record their own studio mix (courtesy Jack White), could turn them into enthusiasts by the time they reach the gift shop. Along the way, they’ll watch a terrific introductory film; revisit the birth of the blues in African-American cultures in the South; follow its migration to Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago and beyond; see the extraordinary influence of the blues on other musical genres, including jazz, folk, rock, country, pop and rap; and be amazed at the seemingly unending cavalcade of artists like Mamie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Lead Belly, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, Henry Townsend, Big George Brock, Tommy Johnson, Mickey Rogers, Keith Richards, Otis Rush, Eric Clapton, the Allman Brothers, Muddy Waters, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Johnny Winter, Charley Patton, Tampa Red, Willie Dixon, ZZ Top, Howlin’ Wolf and many more.

Jug Band Room at the National Blues Museum
Jug Band Room at the National Blues Museum (©V-3 Studios)

The museum’s performance space hosts a regular schedule of concerts, a dedicated gallery will host traveling exhibits (currently showing Blues at Home by H.C. Porter), the gift shop carries museum-specific items in addition to St. Louis-made merchandise, and the whole place is rentable for private events.

And if your visit makes you hungry, there's a Sugarfire Smoke House next door (you don't even have to leave the building), Robust Wine Bar steps away, and a bevy of good, fast-casual eateries across the street serving pizza, Mediterranean street food, sandwiches, wraps and pasta.