Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 8, page 1 of 5)

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Chapter 8

Memphis, Tennessee is the home of America's greatest music- the blues. Beale Street was the corner of black commerce and entertainment where the clubs and bars featured some of the best in the world. There were Hammitt Ashford's saloon at the corner of Beale and 4th Streets, which was the oldest bar in Memphis that catered to the middle and upper class of people. The Monarch Saloon was strictly a black bar where white would neither be served nor welcomed.

W.C. Handy had his band playing in Pee Wee's Saloon frequented by professional gamb1ers, jockeys, racetrack men and members of the Memphis mob. Howard Yancy's pool hall was a hangout for musicians with an upstairs room for groups to practice. The Palace Theater on Beale and Hernando featured Alberta Hunter who confessed to being a lesbian and had often picked-up prostitutes in the streets for her sexual gratification. Beale Street was a haven for cheap stores, eating places, juke joints and a popular whorehouse. Cocaine was sold by the merchants openly in as little as ten cent portions The Lorraine Motel just off of Beale Street was also a place of business for dope dealers and prostitutes.

Schwab's Dry Goods Store on Beale Street offered saleable items such as blues records, grain, chewing tobacco, overalls and drugs. The Orpheum Theater was located at the far end of Beale Street by the river. Women entertainers, especially those with cocaine and whiskey habits, would encourage men wherever they are performing that they were most welcomed to Beale Street. One of the three most popular women was Alberta Hunter who not only attracted men but women as well. Memphis Minnie McCoy was kept busy with the men with a two dollar a trick price tag. Lil Hardin, Loins Armstrong's wife was also a favorite with the men. Beale Street was the home of the Theater Owners Booking Association (T. 0.B.A.) sometimes known as "Toby-Time" and often referred to by black entertainers as "tough on black asses."

Walter 'Fury' Lewis was a regular performer on Beale Street and would play with W.C. Handy's band whenever they were in town. Aleck `Rice' Miller, 'Sonny Boy' Williamson was the leader of the house band for the "King Biscuit Time" radio show on station KFFA in Memphis. His personnel included Robert Junior Lockwood on guitar, James 'Peck' Curtis on drums, pianist Joe 'Pine Top' Perkins and 'Sonny Boy playing the harmonica.

The jug bands found a home in Memphis and especially on Beale Street where they would perform at clubs, juke joints, picnics, on the street corners, in the city parks, and other ventures. Musicians that were associated with jug bands were Allen Shaw, Little Boy Doyle, Kaiser Clifton and James DeBerry and much more. Memphis however, was a stopover for musicians traveling north from the Deep South. When the "Jazz Age" began in 1920, blacks had already begun their exodus from the south to what they considered to be their "Promise Land" up north. Any place was better than the south for the Negro. The black population grew up in cities like Chicago, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Newark and New York. They brought with them the music of the classic blues singers, the country blues, rural blues and the down home blues.

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