It stretches for almost two miles, rising right up out of the Mississippi River. Beale Street. It’s where gamblers lived and died, hookers hooked and killers got away with it. For the first half of the 20th century, there was nowhere else you’d rather be….
And Rufus Thomas would know. Ever since “The Father of the Blues” WC Handy wrote a song about it in 1916, Beale Street has been synonymous with the Blues.
It’s where all the keenest black street musicians set up shop. The best in the business. Like the Memphis Jug Band.
It’s where titans like Memphis Minnie and Furry Lewis cut their teeth and made a home. It’s where a young Mississippi-born guitarist named Riley King landed a radio contract and got a new name. The Beale Street Blues Boy. He eventually dropped the Beale Street and just became Blues Boy. That’s right… B.B. King.
Everybody worth their salt played Beale. Including the Empress herself, Bessie Smith. Here’s her ode to the legendary avenue. Bessie Smith. “Beale Street Mama.”
Now if you’re lookin’ to visit Beale Street yourself, now’s the time to do it. Memphis hosts the International Blues Challenge right on Beale, and there’s no better way to celebrate the music. I was a judge last year, and boy was it a blast. This year’s IBC starts next Wednesday and runs thru Saturday night. It’s the world’s biggest battle of the bands. For more info on the International Blues Challenge visit www.blues.org.