Beale Street in Memphis can be compared to what Maxwell Street was to Chicago Blues. Here, much of the music was born that gave offspring to our favorite musicians across the history.
A bit of Memphis history on Beale Street…
Memphis from mid 19th to early 20th century was the largest cotton importing port in the world. Little cotton trade didn’t go through Memphis, with most of it going through conveniently located Beale Street. Large communities of different cultural descent grew around the trade and the city became a flourishing haven.
During the Civil War, when Ulysses S. Grant took Memphis, he spent a large amount of time in his local headquarters. Many of the former slaves migrated around Grant finding shelter and safety in Memphis. Beale Street had quickly became the center of attention bringing business and people, most of whom wanted to be entertained. Musicians soon entered Beale Street seeing that it was one of the better places to find listeners on the street or in local joints. Many musical periods went through Beale. Music was the reason for Beale’s many revivals. Let’s get you in the mood with Louis Armstrong playing W.C. Handy…
During late 19th century, three severe cases of epidemics (yellow fever, cholera) took place and mowed through white population of Memphis who were more vulnerable to the nature of these diseases. The population of Memphis was cut in half and then some. People fled the city and it had to declare bankruptcy. The remaining communities rebuilt Memphis and made it one of the largest cultural cities in the United States.
Beale Street Blues
Memphis had seen and given birth to the greatest players of Blues, Jazz, Country and whatever the hell others that we heard and haven’t heard about. With Sun and Stax, alongside the prominent musical community throwing festivals on the street under the night’s sky, history decided that she liked Memphis and stayed there. B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Rufus Thomas, Ike Turner, Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and these are just commercial names. There won’t be any room for a post if I begin listing everyone who deserves to it for immortalizing the Beale Street with their music.
It felt good to be there. I agree with the numerous cases of songs dedicated to Memphis. The Blues follows you in your dreams after you find yourself lost in Memphis. It is a great feeling.
Beale Street Today
Some will limit Beale Street today to a fraction of it’s former glory. Maybe so… I haven’t been around in the 19th-20th century and I’d rather not waste my time to argue, believing that just like Chicago in the 1950’s, Memphis had it’s own peak of musical history which is not happening today. However, I found Beale Street fascinating and went back there every day I’ve been in Memphis. Walked from one side of it’s Mississippi shore to the other, right before the turn for the Sun Studio.
The most popular part of the street holds Blues joints galore, including the very own B.B. King’s Blues Club. While I feel that describing food as an event in your travels is boring, the ribs in BB’s were memorable. The Blues was playing on the big projector screen, had a crush on the lady waiting on me, staff was very welcoming and I grabbed a handful of memories from the gift shop as the live band was setting up to play. It will be the place I’d revisit if I see Memphis once again.
Following the street, you will see numerous bars, cafes, souvenir shops of various nature on both sides of the street. A gentleman named Mario will offer his knowledge of the downtown in an exchange for a few bucks to pay for the night in homeless shelter for his two daughters. The man knows what he is talking about.
At night, Beale Street lights up and you find yourself in the company of music, warm feeling and perfect strangers. All that is needed to remember any night for all the nights to come.
Beale Street Events
Memphis hosts a number of various events among which there are:
- International Blues Challenge, January
- Mardi Gras, February
- St. Patty’s, March
- Hot Rods in May
All of these have survived the test of time and are very much worth visiting in addition to the many smaller individual festivals.
Beale Street Music Festival 2015 Lineup
This year’s Beale Street Music Festival Lineup was impressive and rich in talent and stardom from all roots and music influence. Among many of the great performers, there were Lenny Kravitz, Slash, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Ana Popovic, Ed Sheeran, Hozier, Bettye LaVette and so many more. See for yourself:
I did not know what was the big deal about the Beale Street before I had chance to visit. After that I will let everyone know that for whoever looking for the Blues heritage and one of music capitals – Memphis would be a good choice. Beale Street will be my most colorful memory there. And this is the Father of the Blues himself in the original 1912 Memphis Blues… Feel it and start packing.