Opening Weekend for the National Blues Museum: A Celebration of the Rich Musical History of St. Louis

By Jacqui Germain
In Culture

Early Saturday morning, an eager crowd gathered before the doors of the National Blues Museum in Downtown St. Louis in preparation for the opening. The Normandy High School marching band performed several rousing songs, livening up the crisp but sunny morning, followed by a few short remarks from Mayor Francis Slay in honor of the event. After maneuvering the crowd into a line that stretched around the building, at 10am the National Blues Museum officially opened its doors to the public.

Photo by Chris Williams

Bobby Rush, NBM Board Chair Rob Endicott, Executive Director Dion Brown, board member Scott McCuaig, Mayor Francis Slay and board member Barbara Hammerman. Photo by Chris Williams

Upon entering, the essence of the museum became immediately evident. The rich colors and striking murals served as an impressive first presentation that carried through each and every exhibit in the museum. Directly across from the box office sits The Lumière Place Legends Room, the museum’s performance venue, which hosted a series of live performances throughout the day, emceed by Big Llou Johnson. First on the line-up was Phi, a blues band made up of musicians all between the ages of 15 and 18 years old. Later in the day, David Dee and the Divine Divas played a set for a packed room. Accompanied by his band, the veteran blues musician, known to many in St. Louis as the “King of St. Louis Blues,” was an absolute show-stopper.

Photo by Chris Williams

Photo by Chris Williams

The museum traces the history of blues music, beginning with its roots in African musical traditions, negro spirituals and early gospel music, following its evolution across the American South. An exhibit early in the museum presents St. Louis’ own significance in shaping blues music, showcasing sheet music and piano scrolls from Missouri’s ragtime style music, in addition to nod to W.C. Handy’s early blues song, “St. Louis Blues.” Another hallway curves into an elegantly displayed painted brick mural complete with newspaper clippings, antique flyers from early blues shows, and portraits of early blues musicians. One particularly stunning section presented an exhibit of blues’ most famous women, including Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Mamie Smith.

The H.C. Porter gallery, accessible from inside the museum, also presented an exhibit called “Blues @ Home: Mississippi’s Living Blues Legends,” featuring a gorgeous series of visual work by H.C. Porter, who was in attendance.

The latter half of the museum focuses on the music that developed out of the blues tradition—namely rock ‘n’ roll—and includes exhibits honoring the careers of musical trailblazers like Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Sam Cooke and Ray Charles. Altogether, the National Blues Museum was certainly awe-inspiring. The breadth of blues history is magnificently laid out for attendees, showing that the blues’ influence on modern music is indeed unmistakable.

To see that such a museum has found a welcome home in St. Louis is both remarkable and perhaps overdue. If you’re looking for a museum as visually and aesthetically pleasing as it is informative, St. Louis’ National Blues Museum is absolutely one to visit.

Photo by Chris Willams

Photo by Chris Willams

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