St. Louis was a pivotal player in the history of the blues, a fact attested to in the new National Blues Museum in downtown St. Louis, where an entire room is dedicated to telling that story.
According to museum executive director Dion Brown, “St. Louis was already the center for ragtime music, the syncopated music that preceded jazz and blues. The ‘King of Ragtime,’ Scott Joplin, moved to St. Louis in 1901, and many other top ragtime pianists made St. Louis their home, including Tom Turpin, Louis Chauvin, and many others. Because of St. Louis’ great ragtime piano tradition and the wealth of pianos in clubs, the early blues in our town were piano driven. Many blues historians write that the blues were born in the Mississippi Delta and moved up river to Memphis and St. Louis and north to Chicago. In fact, with both rural and city musicians creating the blues and interacting with each other in many different ways, the music grew when St. Louis contributed, and piano blues formed the early ‘St. Louis Sound.’"
But the museum takes its “National” title seriously and traces the entire blues history from the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, Chicago and beyond.
“One of the most common discoveries most people have when visiting the museum,” said Brown, “is in learning that blues music is the foundation of popular American music from rock ‘n’ roll to rap, and how deeply into American history the blues are woven.”
The museum’s state-of-the-art interactive elements let visitors "Become a Blues Legend," which happens, said Brown, “with the interactive stations that allow you to create lyrics and a stage name and add harmonica, guitar and piano tracks. You then mix it up and email it home in the ‘Mix It Up’ room, which was made possible by the generosity of rocker Jack White.”
The museum has attracted a number of high-profile visitors.
“Bonnie Raitt made the National Blues Museum a stop during her last visit to St. Louis, and was thrilled to see the display of her and one of her idols—Sippie Wallace—on stage together," said Brown. "So much so, she spoke enthusiastically of her visit during her show that night at the Peabody Opera House. She was accompanied on her tour of the museum by longtime friend and St. Louis blues musician Leroy Pierson, who helped arrange her visit. The original Blues Brother—Curtis Salgado—toured the museum while in St. Louis performing. Curtis read every word on our walls, played every interactive and said ‘I’ll be back for more.’ Most recently we had Tommy Stinson—you may know him from his years as the bass player for Guns & Roses or Soul Asylum—who also loved every minute of his visit to the museum.”
Happily, the museum celebrates an art form that is alive and well and thriving in St. Louis.
“There are many venues in St. Louis that feature blues every night of the week, one of the reasons the 100+ years of blues tradition in this city is still going strong," Brown noted. "From the ‘Bluesmuda Triangle, composed of BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups, the Broadway Oyster Bar and The Beale on Broadway, to Hammerstones and 1860’s located in the historic neighborhood of Soulard, the live music of St. Louis is among the reasons why we’re one of the top five indigenous blues cities in the world. There’s a Live Music Calendar at STLBlues.net that guides fans to the best music our city offers.”
A few of the artists you could look for include Matt ‘The Rattlesnake’ Lesch, Jeremiah Johnson Band, Kim Massie, Lazer Lloyd, Soul Reunion, Marquise Knox, Marsha Evans, Miss Jubilee, Big George Brock, Bottoms Up Blues Gang, Brian Curran, Tom Hall, Barbara Carr, Funky Butt Brass Band, Jake’s Leg and the ageless, legendary Soulard Blues Band, still playing Monday nights at the Broadway Oyster Bar lo these 38 years.