St. Louis (my home town) has a new feather in their already full cap of great museums – the National Blues Museum. Ah, the soulful Blues! When it comes to pinpointing a birthplace, there is no one agreed on place. The reason being that the roots of Blues music are tied to a people and their culture that were spread across the Mississippi Delta and not one place. More than one American city will claim to be the home of the Blues which just proves that this genre is uniquely American and widespread.
The Blues were born out of African-American culture in the deep south and expressed emotional truths and feelings that were prevalent in the late 1880’s. Sadness, solitude, despair, hardships, and pain. Field hands, slaves, and prisoners would sing aloud as a means of seeking solace in their unempowered and uncontrolled lives. This honest style of music was so compelling that it appealed to many and became the cornerstone of all modern American Music, most notably, Rock N Roll.
“Professional” Blues musicians started showing up in the early 20th century when a great migration of African-Americans moved from the rural south to urban centers in the midwest and the north. Many got their start traveling in tent and medicine shows and the music began to get noticed. St. Louis was one of the cities where musicians settled and saw the rise to famous musicians like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Albert King.
The museum just opened in March, 2016 and is housed in a refurbished downtown department store where $14 million and 23,000 square feet bring to life the history and sounds of the Blues. Exhibits are interactive and engage you in participation. Upon entering, visitors are encouraged to write their own lyrics on a screen and then add musical notes on guitar, harmonica and piano at different stages throughout the museum. Your musical masterpiece is be emailed to you later.
In the Jug Band Room you are invited to pick up an instrument like the washboard, spoons, or shakers and take a lesson. The computer in front of you adds your face and musical notes to a real band performing on the screen. The museum also looks at how evolving technology fostered the spread of the Blues across regions, continents and oceans, from sheet music to jukeboxes to digital downloads and social media. To bring the Blues to life, the museum features a stage and nightclub where live music is played.
St. Louis is filled with many wonderful attractions and there is no shortage of things to do and see there. The National Blues Museum is definitely one that will draw people in with its informative and interactive qualities and soulful vibe.