Art Works Blog

Gateway to the Blues

Washington, DC

St. Louis hometown hero (and NEA Jazz Master) Clark Terry has garnered many honors over a distinguished career, including a star on the St. Louis Walk of Fame. Portrait by Tom Pich

Thanks to Rocco, we know that St. Louis has a long live theater tradition. But the "Gateway to the West? is also hometown to NEA Jazz Masters Henry Townsend and Willie Mae Ford Smith. Yes St. Louis, Missouri, has a rich musical history, dating back to the turn of the 20th century when Scott Joplin made the city his home, writing more than 60 ragtime tunes while living in Missouri.

The confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers made St. Louis a convenient point for musicians traveling north by steamboat from New Orleans or south from Chicago and Kansas City to stop and perform.  It also meant that the city was a good place to start a career, being able to show your talent to those traveling through. Blues singer Victoria Spivey and guitarist extraordinaire Lonnie Johnson started their careers in St. Louis for that very reason. And Miles Davis, after cutting his teeth with Eddie Randle?s band in St. Louis in the early 1940s, got to see the awesome talent of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie when they came through the city---Miles was soon on his way to NYC after that.  And need we mention W.C. Handy naming his most famous song after the city---?St. Louis Blues?---after spending time there?

We'll be checking in with Rocco on his visits to St. Louis and San Diego early next week. See you then!

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