Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Beale Street

Beale Street is a street in Memphis, Tennessee and a significant location in African-American history and the history of the blues. Today, the blues clubs and restaurants that line Beale Street are major tourist attractions in Memphis. Festivals and outdoor concerts periodically bring large crowds to the street and its surrounding areas.
Beale Street was created in 1841, to create an alternate road perpendicular to Front Street (then known as Main Street). The original name of the street was Beale Avenue, which was named after a soldier from the Mexican-American War. It primarily housed shops of trade merchants, who traded goods with ships along the Mississippi River. In the 1860s, many black travelling musicians begin performing on Beale. The first of these to call Beale Street home, were the Young Men's Brass Band, who are formed by Sam Thomas in 1867. In the next 15 years, Beale Street quickly becomes a black mecca, bringing in African-Americans from throughout the south.
In 1890, Beale Street underwent renovation, with the addition of the Grand Opera House, later known as the Orpheum. By 1899 Beale Street, caught the eye of Robert Church, the first black millionaire from the south. Soon he paid the city to create Church Park at the corner of 4th and Beale: a recreational and cultural center, where blues musicians could gather. Some of the famous speakers in the Church Park Auditorium were Woodrow Wilson, Booker T. Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.
In the early 1900s, Beale Street was filled with clubs, restaurants and shops, many of them owned by African-Americans. NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells was a co-owner and editor of a paper based on Beale. Beale Street Baptist Church was also important in the early civil rights movement in Memphis. In 1909, W.C. Handy wrote "Mr. Crump" as a campaign song for political machine leader E. H. Crump. The song was later renamed "Memphis Blues". Handy also wrote a song called "Beale Street Blues" in 1916 which influenced the change of the street's name from Beale Avenue to Beale Street. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon and other blues and jazz legends played on Beale Street and helped develop the style known as Memphis Blues.
In the 1960s, Beale became run down and many stores closed, despite the fact it was inducted as a national landmark. On December 15, 1977, Beale Street was officially declared as the "Home of the Blues" by an act of Congress. In the 1980s, Beale received attention from local lawmakers which led to an economic revitalization, with many new clubs and attractions opening. The street is now home to a chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. During the first weekend of May (sometimes including late April), the Beale Street Music Festival brings major music acts from a variety of musical genres to Tom Lee Park at the end of Beale Street on the Mississippi River. The festival is the kickoff event of a month of festivities citywide known as Memphis in May.



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