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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

Jan 1, 2024

If there is one song that is most closely identified with St. Louis, it would be "St. Louis Blues," by WC Handy.  It's been recorded over 1600 times and is, after all, the namesake of a certain hockey team.  Just press play to hear the whole story. ------

Click on search links to explore episodes with related content: Amanda Clark, Music, Black History, Arts, Entertainment, and Culture, People of Note, ------


Podcast Transcript:  I’m Amanda Clark, manager of the See STL Tours program at the Missouri History Museum, and Here’s History, on eighty-eight one, KDHX. ——

In the fall of 1892, a young Black musician from Alabama found himself struggling to survive in St. Louis. He spent cold nights beneath the Eads Bridge, sleeping on the cobblestoned levee and spent his days looking for whatever work or food he could find. WC Handy was only in St. Louis for a few months, but the sights and sounds he experienced here would later inspire one of the most famous blues songs of all time, the St. Louis Blues. Describing his time in St. Louis Handy said, ““the nearest thing to ‘a break’ in those days happened when I stood on Eads Bridge, threw my lice-infested shirt in the river, and then received the price of a meal and bed from an observer who thought the shirt-doffing scene was a prelude to jumping.” ———

While living and working along the St. Louis riverfront, Handy, already a professional musician, would bear witness to the musical expressions of African Americans that worked on the steamboats coming and going each day. He described hearing “shabby guitarists picking out a tune called “East St. Louis” - with lots of one-line verses and they would sing it all night.” ———

21 years later, Handy would draw upon these memories to write what would become one of his masterpieces. The ambitious song combined ragtime syncopation with a melody more closely related to spiritual traditions. He also added in sections with a tango beat – which was pretty taboo for the time. It describes a woman Handy actually met in St. Louis, lamenting her lost love, a man who treated her badly and then left her for a wealthier woman. ———

This song has been recorded over 1600 times and played by musicians and in venues around the world. It was one of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song and remains a standard for jazz and blues musicians today. ———

Of course, there are many in St. Louis today that say the song’s biggest influence is found in the name of our beloved hockey team, the St. Louis Blues. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri History Museum and KDHX. I’m Amanda Clark and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis.