Music Monday: Two Versions of “St Louis Blues”

I am reading a book right now called Beale Street Dynasty, by Preston Lauterbach.  It’s the story of Robert Church, the first African American millionaire … but it’s also the story of Memphis’ music scene and the influence of musicians of color thereon.

One of the most famous musicians discussed in the book is cornet player and composer W.C. Handy, who is considered by many to be the father of blues music.  He composed songs about issues of the day, such as “Mr. Crump,” which was about the mayor of Memphis.  He also wrote a song called “St. Louis Blues,” the idea for which came to him when he saw an inebriated woman wandering down Beale Street muttering about her hard-hearted man.

Handy also incorporated the concept of sundown towns and sundown orders (in which a given individual was ordered to leave town by sunset to avoid further prosecution or punishment) into the song.  The first line of the lyric is “I hate to see that evening sun go down.”

Here is Handy himself, performing the song on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town.”

Here is a version by Bessie Smith, so that you can hear the lyrics.

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