The Memphis Blues: The Role of Beale Street Musicians
Memphis contained a variety of cultural influences, due to its “rich delta soil”. This soil helped contribute to the city’s high economic base as a market, travel and exchange center, attracting a highly diverse population. During the early 20th century many of the arriving African American musicians began moving to an area in Memphis known as Beale Street. Beale Street allowed musicians to create soulful and emotionally charged music relating to the struggles they faced involving racism throughout the country (Charlton 9-10). Beale Street musicians such as W.C Handy later helped popularize a form of music ...view middle of the document...
By the early 1900’s, Handy and his family relocated to Memphis, and moved to what was then called “Beale Avenue” (Robertson 106-107). Beale avenue gave Handy the opportunity to polish the raw folk music he heard, on the streets, into his own more sophisticated style, a style that later would become the blues (Robertson 9). Handy also incorporated the emotion driven human experience into his music, making his songs both a tale of hardship and resolve (Conover 10).
Handy himself experienced many of the hardships he so often sung about. There were many occasions in Handy’s life where he received repeated threats by lynch mobs, humiliation, and segregation while touring the country as a traveling minstrel, and blues musician (Gussow 5).
By the mid 1900‘s Handy‘s music began to gain notoriety. His song “Beale Street” gained widespread popularity throughout Memphis, and the U.S. However many white audiences still considered his blues music to be “no more than an amusing racial novelty, a primitive music best appreciated and performed by African Americans” (Robertson 10). Despite negative comments, Handy’s approach towards the blues, and the experience he gained on Beale Street was vital to his success as a musician. Beale street gave Handy the opportunity to shape what he called “primitive music” (Robertson 9), into a genre that helped him to bring “African American music into the mainstream of commercial culture and changed the direction of...