- MEMPHIS FROM 1000 THROUGH 1928 -
For detailed photographs see this link:
City of Memphis
The Daily Appeal
Memphis Commercial Appeal
Abraham Schwab Dry Good Store
The William M. Randolp Building
First Baptist Beale Street Curch
W.C. Handy's Home
Pee Wee's Saloon
The Higbee School for Girls
Bensieck Building (Rum Boogie Cafe)
Oakey's Saloon (Beale Street Barbecue)
Club Handy / Pantaze Drug Store No. 2
A. Greener & Sons (Hard Rock Cafe)
Morris Lipmann Building (King's Palaca Cafe)
Sam Slaky Shoe Repair (Blues City Cafe)
Commercial Loan Office (Sam's Town)
The Monarch Saloon
Beale Avenue Market (Alfred's)
Lippman's/Nathan Novick's Loan Office (Blue Hall)
Hammitt Ashford Saloon
Gallina Building (Silky O'Sullivan)
The Randolph Building (The Elvis Presley Statue)
Epstein's Loan Office (King's Palaca Entrance)
Rosenbaum and Medel Furniture (Girls Inc. of Memphis)
Plessy v. Ferguson
The Riechman-Crosby Co. Warehouse (Beale Street Landing)
Panama Cafe (The Rich)
Beale Street Marked House (Handy Park)
Robert Church Parkl
Civil Right Movement
Watson Building (Wearable Art/Gestine's Gallery)
Morris Minstein (This Is It)
Beale Avenue Sales Store (Strange Carco)
Julia Ann Britton Hooks
Theater Owner's Booking Association)
Elks Club (Hotel Mens Improvement Club)
Mutual Furniture Co. (Silky O'Sullivan)
Edward Hull Crump
W.E.B. Bu Bois
Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington High School
Brooks Memorial Art Gallery
Piggly Wiggly (Capital Loans) (Blues City Cafe)
Daisy Theater (Beale Sreet Blues Museum)
Loew's State Theater
Fred L. Schwantz/Sigmund Feder (B.B. King's Club)
Lorraine Hotel (National Civil Rights Museum)
World's Greatest Bible Class)
The Orpheum Theater
Ralph Sylvester Peer
The Talking Machines Comes to Memphis
Indians of unknown origin control the hunting grounds along the Mississippi River and built a
ceremonial village (later called Chucalissa) at present-day Memphis.
Spanish explorer Hernando DeSoto crosses the Mississippi River near here. He was the first
European to get the blues in the Delta, DeSoto found his way to the banks of the Mississippi,
a few miles downriver of the fourth Chickasaw bluff, the future site of Memphis. DeSoto was
hoping for the sort of reception he'd found in Peru with his old boss Francisco Pizarro. But
instead of easily conquered Incas and wealthy cities filled with gold, de Soto and his troops
found only hostile, Catholicism-resistant Chickasaw and other local tribes. Disheartened, the
Paniards quickly built four rafts, escaped across the river, and headed west.
Back then, the future home of the blues and rock and roll was still just a happy hunting
ground. Bear, panther, and deer roamed the muddy banks of the Mississippi and on up to
what would one day be Union Avenue, Beale Street, and other Memphis landmarks. The area
became a battleground in the French and British wars of the eighteenth century, local tribes
of the Chickasaw Indians were supplied with English guns.
The Chickasaw Bluffs that later became Memphis proved strategically vital to their namesake
tribes, who used them as vantage points from which to wage guerrilla warfare.
The first shipload of African slaves sold to the colonies docks in Virginia.
French explorer Sieur de LaSalle travel south along the Mississippi River and claims the
Mississippi Valley for France.
Louisiana Governor Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, sieur de Bienville sends French forces upriver
to built Fort Assumption on the South Bluffs and push the Chickasaw Indians from the area.
They fail, and the soldiers abandon the fort within months. Despite his superior weapons and
sizable army, Bienville waited too long to launch his attack, remaining in the fort his men
had constructed, Fort Asuncion. By then his forces of Frenchmen, African- Americans, and
Indians of other tribes were decimated, the Europeans by disease, the rest by desertion. It
wasn't much of a fight, but Bienville's halfhearted, unsuccessful campaign has the distinction
of being the first documented historical event on the site of what became modern Memphis.
The treaty ending the French and Indian War gives French territory west of the Mississippi to
Spain; lands east of the river go to England.
(See: Historic Memphis)
born (1766-1833). It is quite easy to argue that only John Overton that can
be called the true father of Memphis. Not only did he purchase the land, he was the most
active in the quick surveying, layout and promotion of the planned community.
land would have been less valuable without the behind the scenes machinations of Andrew
Jackson in ridding the land of Indians and other government favors, but even there it was
Overton who brought Jackson in as a partner.
Overton, like all successful early Americans was a Virginian. His earliest Overton ancestors to
appear on the continent came here in 1660.
The youngest of five brothers John was born to
tobacco growers who were struggling under poor conditions. He and his five brothers all
migrated further south to Kentucky and Tennessee.
After finishing his studies John Overton moved to Nashville, or as he called it at the time
“West Tennessee“. He took up lodging in the house of the Widow Donelson, whose daughter,
Rachel Robeson would become one of the most well-known (for good and ill) women in
America. One of the other boarders in Mrs. Donnelson's boarding house was Andrew Jackson,
a young lawyer who was to become Overton's fast friend and partner for life. Jackson would
go on to marry Rachel Robeson before her divorce was official, creating a great scandal
during his presidency, but both men would go on to create many and sundry land deals that
were to become profited nicely, in part due to Jackson's political power.
Overton first purchased the tract on the fourth Chickasaw Bluff from one Elisha Rice, the
brother of the original owner John Rice who was killed by Indians before he could develop
or profit from the area. As was the custom between Jackson and Overton, half of the
property was considered to be Jackson's. Jackson paid Overton $100 for the half, although
Overton's purchase price was $500. Whatever the consideration both men were apparently
happy with the deal.
Once known as the richest man in Tennessee Overton was basically an administrator. Adroit,
efficient, his reputation was that he administered without conflict. Overton served as
Tennessee's Supervisor of Revenue, Judge of the Court of Law and Equity and Judge of the
Superior Court. Over time he and his partner Jackson owned 80,000 acres of claims in West
Overton remained a bachelor most of his life. At the age of 54 he finally married. His bride,
Mary McConnell White May was the widow of Francis May and the daughter of General James
White and sister of Hugh Lawson White a senator and one-time presidential candidate. Nine
inches taller and 17 years younger than Overton, Mary already had five children. Overton
continued to take an interest in his children, nieces and nephews throughout his life.
The same year he married John Overton and business partner James Winchester traveled to
the fourth Chickasaw bluff to look over their claim. The previous year Overton, Winchester
and Jackson had signed a 10 year contract to hold their profits in common and Overton had
successfully petitioned for the formation of Shelby County. The trip to Memphis was largely
to sell lots, which proved a disappointment. At the time there were 53 residents within the
Before his death in 1833 Overton managed to insure the incorporation of Memphis. The sales
had continued to be meager however as Memphis growth was quite gradual. Overton still
died a very wealthy man with few detractors. His life was marked by work, diligence and
sound financial judgment. There are certainly worse things that may be said of a man.
Memphis's most beloved park is named for John Overton. The park and enclosed zoo are
held so sacred by Memphians that the area constitutes none of only two breaks in Interstate
40 which otherwise spans the North American continent.
Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, the Spanish governor of Louisiana with his Spanish troops
move into the area and built Fort San Fernando near the present-day site of The Pyramid. He
bought a section of the lower bluffs from France for thirty thousand dollars. President
George Washington responded quickly, however, calling the purchase 'an unwarranted
aggression'. Facing potential attack from the young country, Gayoso's garrison in 1797
burned their fort and crossed the river to build Fort Esperanza. Later known as Hopefield,
the Arkansas settlement would develop a reputation for rowdiness and lawlessness that
outstripped even its wild and woolly neighbour across the river. Gayoso remains a part of
Memphis life today in the form of a street name. In his case, history became notoriety:
Gayoso Street, which runs parallel between Beale Street and Union Avenue, became home to
some of the city's more opulent brothels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries. Employing light-skinned black women, the Gayoso Street whorehouses, catered
exclusively to a well-to-do white clientele. Many a prominent Memphian, waiting to go
upstairs, first developed a taste for the blues and ragtime he heard on those whorehouse
pianos played by itinerant musicians from the Gilded Age onward.
Spain relinquishes its claims to the region; the soldiers abandon and burn Fort San Fernando.
U.S. Troops then take over and built Fort Adams on the same site.
Fort Adams' swampty, hard-to-defend location forces the U.S. Army to abandon the site and
instead built Fort Pickering on the South Bluffs.
Trading posts had been set up in the area for the purpose of running the Chickasaw Indians
so heabile into debt that they would be forced to sell their land. That bit of strategy came
from Thomas Jefferson and would be revived years later in a slightly altered form in the
plantation-sharecropper system. The plantation store would replace the trading post, as
recently freed African-Americans, lacking land, traded their newfound freedom for seed,
tools, and other necessities, spending themselves and often their descendants back into
Andrew Jackson, John Overton, and James Winchester meet to plan the new town of
Memphis. The following year, surveyors lay out the town and the Tennessee legislature
creates Shelby County.
British claims to its former colony had forever been severed by the War of 1812. General
Andrew Jackson and James Winchester, in partnership with retired Tennessee Supreme
Court chief justice John Overton, founded the city of Memphis.
Overton and Jackson had been working toward that moment since they'd first acquired the
site in the 1790s from the estate of John Rice, who was killed by Indians in central
Tennessee. Overton got the 5,000-acre tract for $500, $2,000 less than the late John Rice
had paid for it. With political connections in mind, he sold a half share to his friend Jackson
for a mere $100. That was a good start, but it wasn't until 1818, when the Chickasaw ceded
almost 7 million additional acres for around $300,000, that Memphis became more than a
(See: Historic Memphis)
Memphis is much more than just Elvis Presley. The only large city in
the Delta region, the city stands at a natural crossroads, with the Appalachians to the east,
New Orleans to the south, St. Louis and Chicago to the north, and Texas to the west. Those
who passed through left the legacy of their regional music styles: blues, jazz, country,
hillbilly folk, and rock and roll. This enviable musical heritage extends back to the turn of
the century, when the Memphis music scene belonged to crude vaudeville versions of blues
tunes played by makeshift ensembles known as jug bands.
In 1819 land speculators Andrew Jackson, John Overton, and James Winchester capitalized
on the removal of the Chickasaw Indians by founding the city of Memphis on 5,000 acres
they had purchased in the 1790s.
In its infancy the "Bluff City" was a rough-and-tumble
frontier town, a haven for the boisterous flatboatmen bound for New Orleans who "got
lickered up" and cavorted in the local fleshpots. The arrival of the steamboat - and later the
railroad - helped establish Memphis as a trade center, but of primary importance was the
emergence of King Cotton in the Old Southwest.
The city's overwhelming dependence upon
the crops, as well as the system of labour that produced it, resulted in its reorientation as a
southern city; it supported a thriving slave market in the antebellum years and
enthusiastically cast its lot with the Confederacy after Fort Sumter.
Prior to the 1870s Memphis sported a heterogeneous population mix in which Germans and
Irish figured prominently in the local cultural scene. After that decade's harter in favour of a
state-administered taxing district, the foreign born avoided the location. As a result, the
arrival of the rural inhabitants - both black and white - fuelled the city's population growth.
The steady infusion of native-born farm folk led H.L. Mencken to term Memphis the "most
rural-minded city in the South" and the "buckle" of the Bible Belt - a reference to the
fundamentalist religion that saturated the community. Memphis also became the economic
and cultural center for mid-South blacks. Robert R. Church, a rural transplant from nearby
Holly Springs, Mississippi, reputed to be the South's first black millionaire, headed the
region's largest black business community. His son, Robert E. Church, Jr., went into politics
and became the nation's most powerful black Republican by the 1920s. For nearly the first
half of the 20th century the city's government was dominated by another native of Holly
Springs, Edward Hull Crump. Boss Crump was president over a Democratic machine so
powerful that he single-handedly ruled not only Memphis but Shelby County and exerted
considerable statewide influence as well. The city's reputation and morale received a blow
in 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel there while
assisting a garbage worker's strike.
A Crump contemporary, songwriter W.C. Handy, penned "The Memphis Blues" in 1909, and
Beale Street, the main thoroughfare of the city's black community, gained the reputation as
the birthplace of that distinctive musical form. During the 1940s the city's sound underwent
a revolutionary change when an upbeat jazz influence, coupled with electrical amplification,
helped create rhythm and blues.
This pioneering Memphis rhythm and blues sound in turn influenced the sound of Sun
Records, responsible for, among other things, introducing a host of blues and rock-and-roll
performers including B.B. King, Isaac Hayes, and its "father" of rock and roll, Elvis Presley to
the world in the 1950s. Elvis Presley's hybrid of blues and country - the combination that
became known as rockabilly - encouraged the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis (Lewis has developed
a habit of dropping in, allegedly uninvited, to Beale Street clubs to "challenge" whoever's
playing to a jam), Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, and Carl Perkins to come to Sun
Records. In the early 1960s, at the newly formed American Sound Studio(*) and Stax
Records(*) across town, black and white musicians played together, despite heavy
segregation. Stax Records artists like Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding shaped a new form of
rhythm and blues named - soul - and Stax Records became the most successful label in the
A decade later, nearby Hi Records reaped similar kudos and sales with Al Green, the soul
superstar of the time.
Memphis went through a rough patch in the 1970s, both musically and financially, as
businesses left for the suburbs and the wrecking ball flattened most of Beale Street. But
since the mid-1980s, the city has been spending money. Much of downtown has been
smartened up; Beale Street, with its museums and nightclubs, is thriving, even if it does
resemble a giant blues theme park. The opening of Graceland, Presley's mansion, to the
public draws three-quarters of a million visitors a year, and the restoration of Beale Street
reflect the city's attempt in recent years to preserve its rich musical heritage, and almost
always a music festival of some kind, like the Blues Music Week in October, is going on. The
Pink Palace Museum and Mud Island Museum emphasize the historic link between the "Bluff
City" and the Mississippi River. With Memphis State University, Christian Brothers College,
LeMoyne-Owen College, Rhodes (formerly Southwestern at Memphis), and the University of
Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences, the city serves as the educational heart of the
The Memphis Music Hall Of Fame, located at 97 South Second Street, is a museum does a fair
job of explaining how Memphis became a major recording center. Dotted throughout are
pictures and well-researched bios of Hall of Famers, whose ranks include Elvis Presley, Jerry
Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes. Among the mementos are a Jerry Lee
Lewis piano and a Booker T. organ, while Rufus Thomas' white cape and hot pants and Isaac
Hayes' exotic costumes show there. Listening posts give a chance to hear some of the sounds
that made Memphis famous.
The Ardent Studio, this smart suburban studio, moved to a current location in 1971, it
shifted from one ad hoc address to another, settling in at 1457 National Avenue for five
years at the end of the 1960s. In those days Stax Records would send musicians over to
Ardent when their space was booked up, which is how Isaac Hayes ended up cutting his
massive-selling "Hot Buttered Soul" often touted as the epitome of Stax's technique, at
Ardent. A band led by ex Box Tops singer Alex Chilton, came here to record their first album;
unhappy with the name they were using, Ice Water, they wandered outside, spotted the Big
Star supermarket opposite (since demolished), and realized their search was over. The
Ardent studio, started by Federal Express founder Fred Smith in 1971, is now run by former
Big Star drummer Jody Stephens. ZZ Top's "Eliminator" (1983), the Replacements' "Pleased To
Meet Me" (1987), and R.E.M's "Green" (1988) were all recorded here. Visitors during the
1990s have included the Bar-Kays, the Gin Blossoms, Primal Scream, and locals Big Ass Truck,
who have been signed by Rounder Records. Ardent studio is now located at 2000 Madison
Besides the rare singles and latest releases in Memphis, the Shangri-La record store is home
to an alternate record label in Memphis (the roster includes the local Grifters), and a shrine
to 1970s tack. You'll find such delights as a Kiss board game, Partridge Family lunchbox, and
Mork from Ork radio. The store is located at 1916 Madison Avenue.
In 1995 the Memphis premier alternative studio, located at 2272 Deadrick Street, played
host to Sonic Youth. Feeling a need to offload the band's legacy, the fellow came here toying
with the idea of changing their name to Washing Machine, but used it for the album title
instead. Offering some of the best rates in the city, Easley has long been popular with local
acts. Big names from out of town who have recently recorded here include the Jon Spencer
Blues Explosion and Pavement (studio owner Doug Easley engineered "Wowee Zowee" and
played steel on some tracks).
Soul, and gospel fans, visiting the Full Gospel Tabernacle, located at 787 Hale Road, off
Highway 51, Whitehaven, musicians, tourists, and the actually religious drop in to this
suburban church a few miles south of Graceland to catch the world's most soulful preacher,
the Reverend Al Green. The former Mr. Soul got religion big time in 1977, when a girlfriend
threw a pan of hot grits over him. He now tells his congregation, "Don't come here with a
solemn look on your face. We're here to have church". Sunday services start at 11 a.m., but
as the Reverend Al is in big demand to preach around the country, he isn't here every week.
He's also a popular choice for weddings, there's a two-year wait.
A small-but-healthy indie scene ensures that Memphis does not remain rooted in the past,
and bands are lining up to use such studios as Easly Records and the rejuvenated Sun. In
short, the city, now a major destination, is a not-to-be-missed stop for music fans. The 1984
Memphis population was 648,00.
- The largest river in North America, the Mississippi River was named by
Indians the "Father Of Waters" and created the central South both literally and figuratively.
The lower Mississippi over geologic eons built a fertile valley and delta to which it adds even
now from a drainage area of 1,245,000 square miles including all or parts of 31 states and
two Canadian provinces.
The river system severed soil from the slopes of the Appalachians
and Rockies, from prairies and plains, and carried it downstream eventually to become the
croplands, forests, and swamps of an alluvial valley with a 35,460 square mile area
bordering the 1,000 miles of the Mississippi downstream of Cape Girardeau, Mo.
Celebrated in fiction, film, and music, the Mississippi was the setting for many Old South
stereotypes: of crinolines belles and riverboat dandies, of cheerful roustabouts toting bales
to steamboats as the levees, and of colonnaded mansions and cotton fields saved by heroic
fights against floods. Steamboat transport, starting in New Orleans in 1811, once was vital to
the economy of the central South, and there were indeed belles, dandies, roustabouts, and
mansions; yet, the stereotypes did not convey the richness of the cultures blended by the
river - the Native American, the Spanish, French, British, and African threads that are part
of the rococo fabric of the southern heritage.
The history of the river falls into two phases: efforts to secure strategic control of the
stream and its hinterlands followed by efforts to control the river itself through engineering.
In 1541 conquistador Hernando de Soto became the first European to see the Mississippi, and
he later was buried in it, the French first settled the valley building the first levee for
protection against flooding in 1717. Through byzantine diplomacy and military raids, the
Europeans wrested control of the river from the native tribes and from each other, the
Spanish taking New Orleans and the British occupying Natchez after the French and Indian
War in 1763. The Spanish and the Americans drove the British from its banks during the
American Revolution, and the Americans purchased full control of the river from Napoleon in
1803, subsequently repulsing an effort by the British to retake it at New Orleans in 1815.
Through construction of levees, Americans then wrested croplands from the rich floodplain,
establishing an agricultural system made possible not only by the soils brought south by the
river, but also by flatboats crammed with midwestern foodstuff and manufactures, barges of
Pittsburg coal for sugar refineries and steamship fuel, and thousands of steamboats
funnelling downriver the commerce of a network of waterways reaching as far north as St.
Paul, Minn., as far west as Fort Benton, Mont., and as far as Olean, N.Y.
The Mississippi also brought less welcome guests south: northern soldiers in ironclad
steamboats breaking the chain the Confederacy placed across the river, scalawags and
rascals, and the floodwater from its immense watershed. Southerners lost the fights against
both the soldiers and the floods, but, through formation of the Mississippi River Commission
in 1879, enlisted some of those soldiers in the efforts to control flooding and maintain
navigation. Supplemented by floodways to sap the river's strength and by reservoirs to stop
floods where they originated the levee system was fortified after the 1927 flood. By 1972
1,683,8 miles of the proposed 2,193,7 miles of levees had been completed and they
successfully withstood the record 1973 flooding.
Powerful diesel towboats pushing barges supplanted steamboats after 1930. The 1,832-mile
navigation channel maintained between Baton Rouge and Minneapolis and the 12,350-mile
network of connecting waterways bore a tonnage far larger than that carried by steamboats.
The barges moved through the Illinois River to the Great Lakes and via the Gulf Intracoastal
Waterway west to Houston and east to Tampa. The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway offers an
alternative to the Mississippi for barge traffic, but it is not expected that tonnage moving on
the Mississippi "Ole Man River" will significantly diminish.
English performer Charles Matthews travelled through America collecting African-American
dialects, stories, songs, and malaprops to use in his productions. He would later tell of
attending a performance of Hamlet by the African Theater Company. During the play's
famous soliloquy, Matthews recalled, the audience of freedmen misinterpreted the phrase
"by opposing" as "by opossum" and, preferring American fiddle music to Shakespeare, began
raucously calling for "Possum Up A Gum Tree", a dance tune still played by American fiddlers.
Shelby County settlements in the area, was set ten miles east of Memphis on the Wolf River
in the town of Raleigh. An exodus of the more refined settlers followed, as Memphis was
already earning its reputation as a wide-open frontier river town. Bears would occasionally
wander into the city from the surrounding woods, roaming streets filled with holes so deep
that as late 1843 a team of oxen drowned after falling into one. Memphis was working
overtime to make a name for itself as a sprawling, brawling, hard-drinking, hard-living river
Marcus B. Winchester, son of Memphis' cofounder, becomes Memphis' first mayor. His black
wife, Lucille Lenora, was described in historical accounts as 'a beautiful French quadroon'.
The couple had married in Louisiana, where, unlike in Tennessee, racial intermarriage was
legal. The marriage caused some talk - hypocritically enough, as white male Memphians had
black mistresses. Nonetheless, Winchester managed to be reelected, a situation that would
have been unimaginable even twenty years later, as racial lines began to be more rigidly
The first yellow fever epidemic here causes 150 deaths.
The first Memphis whorehouse opened his doors, but years before that prostitutes were
already freelancing up and down the muddy streets. Whisky sold for twenty-five cents a
gallon and was even served outside religious camp meetings, which, like most activities in
early Memphis, tended to be rowdy affairs. For those who needed an excuse, there were
sound medical reasons for preferring whisky to the local water, which was pulled out of the
unsavoury Wolf River that snaked through the settlement.
There was whisky. There were women. And in Memphis from the start, there was music. The
earliest "Memphis Sound" was provided by itinerant fiddlers and banjo players sawing and
plunking tunes like "Zip Coon" (better known as "Turkey In The Straw"), "The Eighth of
January" (commemorating the War of 1812s "Battle Of New Orleans", with lyrics by Ozark
folk singer Jimmie Driftwood, "Old Dan Tucker", "Arkansas Traveler", and "Boatman". Tunes
were similar to the reels played by British and Irish fiddlers. The African influence, with its
greater emphasis on supple, syncopated rhythms, was already beginning to enter the music
Minstrelsy had taken on a distinctly authentic flavor. The humor remained condescending at
best and flagrantly racist at worst, but many of the tunes performed on the stage came from
folk tradition. Thomas D. Rice, adapted a hobbling "jig-walk" dance he'd learned in 1828
from an old crippled slave. Rice's "Jim Crow" became such a popular minstrel act that it later
entered daily speech in the term for segregation legislation - "Jim Crow" laws.
T.D. Rice introduces blackface and "Jump Jim Crow".
Nat Turner's slave rebellion.
German immigrant Christian Friedrich Martin arrived in New York to establish one of the very
first guitar-making shops in the country. Martin, a carpenter, had made boxes in his native
Germany in which makers of fine violins shipped their instruments. Crafting those crates, he
came up with the idea of a box that made music as well as contained it. And though Elvis
Presley leading the rock revolution with his leather-bound C.F. Martin D-18 "box" was 120
years and a whole universe away, Martin's instinct was true. He created a new instrument
for a new country.
But change came slowly, and the violin continued as king of the instruments. For the rest of
the nineteenth century the guitar remained primarily a status symbol of the rich, found in
fashionable drawing rooms where its delicate catgut strings were primly plucked by the lilywhite
fingers of cultured young ladies.
The Mississippi was becoming a more important route of travel and commerce. The flatboat
gave way to the steamboat, with the first packet line between Memphis and New Orleans
The Tennessee legislature grants the first railway charter to the Memphis Railroad Company.
Memphis achieved a powerful position as the trade center between St. Louis and New
With the population numbered 1,800, Memphis began calling itself a city; twenty years later
it was home to 22,623, and had overtaken Nashville as the largest city in Tennessee.
That same period saw the growth of a uniquely American form of theater: the minstrel show.
Many of the dance tunes that set feet to stepping in Memphis' early years were first
popularized in the day's minstrel revues, fast becoming the country's most popular form of
theatrical entertainment. The African minstrel was not far behind.
In the 1840s Beale Street was part of South Memphis which included a large area south of
Gayoso Avenue. Memphis proper stood just north of Gayoso, its southern border stopping at
Union Avenue. Both towns were consolidated in 1849. Robertson Topp, a Memphis attorney
and entrepreneur, gave the street its name in honor of an American military hero. In the
1840s, especially at its eastern end, Beale was a suburb for the affluent. There is only one
mansion left: the Hunt-Phelan home. During this period a number of businesses were
established in the western part of Beale near Main Street.
BEALE STREET, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Would become known as "the Main Street of Negro
America", one of the most celebrated streets in the South, was the black main street of
Memphis and of the surrounding rural region, comparable in its heyday to Auburn Avenue in
Atlanta and Maxwell Street in Chicago. Beginning at the Mississippi riverfront and extending
eastward a mile and a half, the street was lined with commercial buildings, churches,
theatres, parks, elegant mansions, everyday dwellings, and apartment houses.
The street was honor of a military man named John Beale, who gained some fame for
some now-forgotten heroics in the War of 1812. Until the Civil War, it was primarily the
home of rich white Memphians, who graced it with such imposing structures as the Hunt-
Beale Street, 1950s. For
an extensive collection Beale Street photographs see: Historic Memphis website.
Constructed in 1841, this house at 533 Beale Street served as General
Ulysses S. Grant headquarters during the war.
The diversity of its built environment showed that Beale was a mosaic of southern
cultures. For more than a century, indigenous white and black southerners, Italian
Americans, Greek Americans, Chinese Americans, and Jews lived or worked on Beale
Unlike its northern counterparts, Beale Street never became a black ghetto. But it was
Beale's black culture that gave the street its fame, and the street stood as testimony to
the decision of black people to strive to achieve the American Dream in their American
homeland, the South, rather than to move North. From the 1830s, when the street was
laid out, to the Civil War, black people were present on Beale Street, either as slaves living
in quarters behind their masters' homes or as free blacks, some of whom owned Beale
Street property. After emancipation, thousands of freed slaves left the declining farms and
small towns of the rural South and came to Memphis and to Beale Street in particular,
seeking to fulfill the promises of freedom. Alongside white-owned establishments, they
founded banks, insurance companies, retail shops, newspapers, schools, churches,
fraternal institutions, nightclubs, and political and civil rights organizations. From the
1880s to the 1920s Beale Street was one of the South's most prosperous black
communities. On weekends, thousands of blacks from Memphis and the surrounding
countryside came to Beale for shopping and entertainment, crowding the sidewalks so
thickly "you had to walk in the street to pass by".
As the urban center of black nightlife for north Mississippi, east Arkansas, and west
Tennessee, Beale attracted hundreds of musicians and became one of the nation's most
influential centers of Afro-American music. Variety was its hallmark - vaudeville
orchestras, marching bands, ragtime, jug bands, blues, jazz, big bands, and rhythm and
blues. A meeting place for urban and rural styles, Beale served as a school where young
talent was nurtured and it produced musicians who shaped the course of American music.
In 1909 W.C. Handy was the first person to pen the blues, a form of music he had first
heard in the Mississippi Delta town of Clarksdale, thus enabling it to be played around the
Since the 1920s Beale Street has produced a succession of outstanding jazz musicians,
such as Jimmy Lunceford, a principal creator of the big-band sound. Every day life on
Beale, especially on Saturday, jumped with activity. In the daytime, the crowded levee
overflowed with riverboats, roustabouts, bales of cotton and other goods, various
hucksters and vendors, as well as an assortment of characters who frequented the nearby
saloons and cafes. Further east on Beale, sidewalks were filled with displays of clothes,
racks of shoes, and swarms of people. Pullers hovered in front of pawn shops and dry
goods stores trying to attract customers.
Street vendors sold a variety of food, like tamales
and fried fish, while fresh fruit was available from Tony's Fruit Stand and Joe Spinoza's
fruit wagon. Peddlers pushed their earts as they began their rounds. Farmers in overalls,
in town to do their Saturday shopping, boarded their horses and wagons at Keck's Livery
Stable (later a parking garage) on Second Street, right around the corner from Beale. If
they had produce to sell, like vegetables, eggs, or chickens, they parked their wagons next
to Handy Park or somewhere on Beale Street. Handy Park echoed with the rhythmic pulse
of preachers and bluesmen, as well as the awkward shuffle of winos, sounds which
staggered into the evening hours.
After dark, the attention of the crowd shifted to the theaters, dance halls, and restaurants
which lit up the street with a steady stream of bright multicolored lights. Slick and roughand-
tumble hustlers moved in and out of the Hole In The Wall, Midway, and Panama, three
of Beale's numerous gambling lairs. The Chop Suey, New York, and New Orleans Cafes
braced for the onslaught of dinner-time patrons and waited eagerly for the after-theater
crowd. The Avalon, Monarch, and Rex pool rooms cracked with the snap of cue sticks and
billiard balls. Shadowy bordellos, on Third and Fourth Streets, switched on their porch
lights (white patrons had their emporiums two blocks north on Gayoso). Night life on Beale
Street was exciting, some of it gnarled and dangerous, but typical of any place which
concentrated an assortment of characters, easy money, and booze.
Music was certainly heard during the daytime, but evening is when everything began to
cook. Amid the hubbub and bustle of night life, music filled the air between Third Street
and Danny Thomas Boulevard, as well as up and down cross streets. Itinerant blues
musicians and the popular jug bands played for hangouts on street corners and in Handy
Blues combos and pianists pounded out their rhythms in seedy smoke-filled clubs and
in the many rough gambling dens.
Jazz orchestras performed for dances, dinners, and
proms, in Church Park Auditorium, in nightclubs and theaters, and for the many fraternal
organizations, such as the Elk's Club and Masonic lodge.
As if to keep everything honest and in balance, gospel music rose from the pulpits and
pews of both storefront and larger churches, such as Centennial Baptist and Union Grove
Baptist Church. Two of them, Avery Chapel and First Baptist Beale Street Church, were
only a few doors away from Beale and Fourth, the intersection that was home to some of
Beale's most notorious gambling and drinking spots.
In the 1940s and 1950s Beale Street musicians like B.B. King and Bobby "Blue" Bland blended
traditional blues with jazz arrangements to help produce the new form of music known as
rhythm and blues.
In the 1950s young white musicians from the region like Elvis Presley
were attracted to the music, dance, and dress styles of Beale Street and merged these with
their country music traditions to shape a new type of music, rockabilly, and to lay the
foundations for rock and roll.
But if Beale Street was a cultural sanctuary, it was a precarious one. Segregation denied
blacks effective access to political and economic power beyond their own community, and
they were therefore unable to protect their Beale Street haven when hard times came.
After World War II, downtown Memphis, like other American inner cities, began to change
radically in character; the two most dramatic responses, the civil rights movement and
urban renewal, transformed Beale. While the civil rights movement achieved integration
of Memphis' public facilities, it ironically damaged Beale by enabling blacks to do business
throughout the city. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., near Beale Street and
the turbulent aftermath accelerated the street's decline. Urban renewal then cleared most
of the old buildings in its supportive community.
In 1966 Beale Street was placed on the national register of historic places. Eventually, this
came to include only those blocks between Second and Fourth Streets. From 1969 until
the early 1970s, the street and its surrounding environs underwent extensive urban
renewal in which hundreds of buildings were demolished.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, however, Beale Street like other historic areas in the South
received new recognition as a cultural resource; and governmental, nonprofit, and private
organizations have substantially revitalized the street. The result of two statues and music
notes of W.C. Handy and Elvis Presley. (Elvis Presley's statue was unveiled on August 14,
1980, sculpted by Eric Parks, on Elvis Presley Plaza), preservation of original landmarks
together with the establishment of new nightclubs like B.B. King's and the Rum Boogie
Cafe (The letters from the original Stax Records sign at the demolished studio take pride of
place above the stage at Boogie, joined by guitars donated by Albert Collins, the Black
Crowes, and others. Acts here play traditionalist rhythm and blues), King's Palace Cafe
(Offers up "championship gumbo" backed by blues more commercial and contemporary
than what's on at the other joints), restaurants, retail stores, and an interpretive center
has produced significant blends of old and new, and the future development of the street
will no doubt continue to reflect major trends of urban southern culture. For the most
part, however, the dozen or so nightclubs within this four-block stretch put on traditional
urban blues and rhythm and blues for a mixture of tourists and fashionable locals. Slick
and professional, the clubs also double as reasonably priced restaurants at lunchtime and
early evening. For a more down-home feel, the Unnamed Joint below Earnestine and
Hazel's Sundry Store, located at 531 South Main Street, off Beale Street, for instance, puts
on a worthy "Kickin' Saturday Live Blues" night.
The Daily Appeal, forerunner to the Memphis Commercial Appeal, begins publication.
Hunt-Phelan mansion is constructed, this house at 533 Beale Street served as General
Ulysses S. Grant's headquarters during the Civil War; it still stands today and was reopened
for tours in 1996. When Grant was in residence, a few blocks toward the river on the north
side of Beale Street between Hernando and Third stood one of the city's two public markets,
built in 1859 in the European style popularized in New Orleans' French Quarter.
MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL (See: Historic Memphis)
- To maintain the presence of a Democratic newspaper in
Memphis, Colonel Henry Van Pelt took over the defunct Western World and Memphis Banner
of the Constitution in 1840. In 1841 he changed the paper's name to the Weekly Appeal, and
the first issue appeared on April 21.
With hopes of appealing to "the sober second thought of
the people", a phrase adopted as the newspaper's motto, Van Pelt used the paper to promote
the Democratic principles of states' rights and a strict interpretation of the Constitution. In
1847 the paper began daily publication, except on Mondays, and published weekly and
triweekly editions as well.
As dissension between the North and South increased during the 1850s, the Appeal became
a strong advocate of southern nationalism. Editors John R. McClanahan, Leonidas Trousdale,
And Benjamin F. Dill believed that the Democratic party and southern unity were the South's
only hopes for maintaining its rights within the Union. Their stance, in a city with few slaves
and many northern commercial ties, was bold. Not until late in 1860, though, did the paper
become an exponent of secession, and then it determined to be a voice for the South
throughout the war. Fleeing Memphis just hours before occupation by federal troops, Dill
and McClanahan (Troudale left the paper in 1860) settled and published the Appeal first in
Grenada, Mississippi, then in Jackson, Atlanta, Montgomery, and Columbus, at the war's end,
Union soldiers finally captured Dill and destroyed some of the equipment of what one officer
called "this defiant rebel sheet". With Dill as sole editor, the Appeal reappeared in Memphis
on November 5, 1865. Dill's death two months later marked the beginning of a short period
of instability, but in 1868 John McLeod Keating began a 21-year term as editor. Under his
direction, the paper became an advocate of the New South movement, promoting sanitation
reform, agricultural diversification, manufacturing, and political rights (but not social
equality) for blacks.
When William Armistead Collier bought the newspaper in 1889, Keating became editor of the
newly established Memphis Daily Commercial. In 1890 Collier purchased the Avalanche, a
rival newspaper in the city. By 1893, however, the Appeal Avalanche had fallen victim to
financial misfortune. The Commercial Publishing Company bought the paper in 1894 and
issued the first edition of the Commercial Appeal on July 1, 1894.
Charles Patrick Joseph Mooney edited the paper from 1908 to 1926. Although it gave no
support to the cause of racial equality, the Appeal won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for its
coverage and condemnation of Ku Klux Klan activities. J. P. Alley's cartoon "Hambone",
featuring a little black man, became a popular feature and appeared regularly until it was
discontinued following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968. One of Mooney's
primary local concerns centered upon the Memphis political machine of Edward Hull Crump.
"Bos" Crump's control of the local politics began with his 1909 election as mayor and
continued later through his position as a Shelby County trustee. While the Appeal did not
favor the state prohibition law, Crump would not even enforce it. Mooney and others used
this failure to force Crump's resignation as mayor in 1916, but the principle of one-man rule
had been and remained the editor's chief concern.
Before his death, Mooney encouraged the establishment of an evening paper. The first
Evening Appeal was published on December 1, 1926 but, in June 1933, was absorbed into
the morning paper. The Commercial Appeal came under chain ownership when the Scripps-
Howard news organization, the current owner, acquired it in 1936.
Today, the Appeal
publishes only morning and Sunday editions and no longer officially allies itself with any
political party. Its circulations is over 227,500 daily and in excess of 292,000 on Sundays.
(See: Historic Memphis)
- (1828-1851) Architect Robert Mills constructed in 1828, located on
533 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this meticulously restored Southern mansion was
home to the same family for 150 years. In 1828 a house was built for George H. Wyatt, a
land surveyor, in a forested area about two miles from the center of Memphis. The mansion,
completed in 1832, was the first to be constructed in the neighbourhood and the only one to
survive the ravages of urban renewal.
Around 1833 Colonel Eli M. Driver, Wyatt's cousin, moved in. Eventually he purchased the
property in 1850 from another cousin, Jesse M. Tate. Colonel Driver's daughter, Sarah
Elizabeth, married Colonel R. Hunt who took possession of the house in 1851 after Driver's
death due to consumption.
Six generations of the Hunt family and their descendants, the
Phelans, have lived in the house.
The property originally covered the entire block (about ten acres) and included a
smokehouse, barns, stables, and slave cabins. The long tree-lined driveway brought visitors
in full view of a striking brick house sitting in a grove of magnolias. Its two-stories, each
balanced with four rooms and a central hallway, eyed the beautiful gardens and grounds
through windows crowned with stone lintels. Guests stepped from their carriages to face a
handsome front entrance with a wide, square transom over the door and two strips of
narrow side lights. Built in the Federal style, the house was and still is an impressive sight.
In 1850 Colonel Driver added a two-story kitchen at the rear which contained servants'
quarters, a laundry room, a repair shop, and a wood storage area. A two-story porch joined
it to the main house. Colonel Driver also left orders in his will that the small Dorian portico
over the front entrance be moved to the side entryway. A much larger portico, in Greek
Revival style, replaced it. Four channelled Ionic wood columns, each having a cast-iron base
and cap, supported its wooden roof.
Colonel Driver, a land commissioner, had extensive real estate holdings which were
estimated to be worth $225,000 in 1850. Driver maintained a large number of slaves who
worked as house servants and as field hands on his cotton plantations in Mississippi. In his
will he provided that his slaves be freed, although seven chose to remain with the family.
In July 1861, Confederate General Leonidas Polk, a friend of Colonel Hunt, stayed at the
house to organize the Army of Tennessee and to plan the defense of the Mississippi River.
Jefferson Davis, another personal friend, assigned Hunt to command the arsenal at Atlanta
which was later moved to Selma, Alabama. After Memphis fell to Union forces on 6 June
1862, General Ullysses S. Grant appropriated the house for his headquarters, where he
planned the siege of Vicksburg in its library.
After Grant left, the house and grounds were heavily fortified against raids by General
Nathan Bedford Forrest. In building trenches and camouflaging key positions, Union troops
tore down most of the structures surrounding the residence. They also enlarged and
lengthened a tunnel originally built under the center of the house by George Wyatt for food
storage and to hide from Indians. The new tunnel, now used for the transport of soldiers and
dispatches, stretched across Beale Street to another house. On a foggy morning in 1864,
Forrest's Raiders attacked Memphis. Their goal was to capture the city's Union commanders,
but they were only partly successful. Riding up Lauderdale Street, his cavalry fired a rifle
barrage at the house which scared the daylights out of the Union officers living there.
In February 1863, the house was turned into a hospital and kind of U.S.O. operated by the
Western Sanitary Commission. Called the Soldiers Home, it cared for thousands of Union
troops. During the war, the Freedman's Bureau built a schoolhouse for newly liberated slaves
which still stands, shrivelled and dilapidated, just behind the Grench gardens at the rear of
In 1993 Stephen R. Phelan, the last member of the family to live in the house, died. His
cousin, William Day, placed the house under a foundation with the prospects of turning it
into a museum. Remarkably, the family never threw anything out.
The contents of the home include: antebellum furniture, a rare 1859 Steinway grand piano,
original furnishing and antiques, as well as diaries and letters spanning six generations, of
special significance are the library of around 3000 antique books, with its round mahogany
table, correspondence from President Andrew Johnson, Jefferson Davis, and General Nathan
Bedford Forrest, among others, and two previously unknown photographs of Jefferson Davis.
All of this adds considerably to the significance of the house and to the history of Beale
Visitors are guided through the beautiful grounds and house with the aid of an audiotape and
docents dressed in period attire. Known for years as Memphis' "mystery mansion" and home
to a pack-rat/recluse who shut himself off from the twentieth century, the structure is now a
treasured historic landmark.
Dan Emmett, who introduced the anthem "Dixie" - formed the Virginia Minstrels, banding
together in hopes of surviving the economic recession then battering the entertainment
business. Though the quartet broke up the following year during a successful tour of
England, they would inspire hundreds of similar minstrel troupes. Many minstrels toured the
South. Between 1945 and 1860, at least one minstrel troupe a year performed in Memphis,
but minstrelsy wasn't the only entertainment enjoyed by antebellum Memphians.
Construction begins on the Gayoso House, Memphis' first luxury hotel.
First public minstrel show, in Virginia.
NOVEMBER 1, 1844
Memphis' modern daily newspaper, Commercial Appeal, advertised: "To the ladies in
particular... a new splendid log of Music offered by E.W. Rowlett. To play that sheet music,
the merchant also offered pianos, violins, flutes, harps, and guitar for sale. Lessons on those
instruments were being offered by "Mrs. Johnson, late of Boston", in her school for young
ladies. And Mrs. Johnson's wasn't the only palace of higher learning in Memphis. The
Collegiate Institute of Memphis offered two departments, "one for each of the sexes".
Memphians then were enjoying a variety of pastimes, from horse racing on the Central
Course to the Vaux Hall Gardens resort.
The U.S. Navy builds a shipyard at Memphis.
The Memphis Medical College - the city's first - opens downtown in the Exchange Building.
Stephen Foster publishes "Oh Susannah". California Gold Rush.
The Tennessee legislature merges the separate towns of Memphis and South Memphis into
Black freedmen settled in the section of Beale Street and, during the Civil war, their number
Famed opera diva Jenny Lind first sang in Memphis at the Crisp's Gaiety Theater and the Old
Memphis Theater. Shakespearean actors like Edwin Booth and James Hackett regularly made
stops in the Bluff City.
Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin".
One of the most popular of the pre-Civil war performers of banjo specialties, Picayune
Butler, still used an instrument made out of a gourd as late as the 1840s, but when the first
band of blackface performers appeared on the stage of what was to become the first
minstrel show, he banjo had been Americanized.
Norwegian violinist named Ole Bull, appeared in Memphis. At one of his performances in New
Orleans, "a nigger fiddler" stolen the show.
Memphis links with the East Coast with the construction of the Memphis & Charleston
Frenchman Leon Scott invented the phoneautograph which translated fluctuating air
pressures into a scribed trace on a smoked cylinder by means of a stylus attached to a
membrane. The resulting transcription could not reproduce the sound.
Former plantation slaves continued leaving their plantations in Mississippi and West
Tennessee, and Memphis was usually their goal. In 1860, the black population of Memphis
was 3,882 strong; a decade later it was 15,471, and continued to grow steadily through the
rest of the century. When the 1900 census topped 100,000 Memphians, and event
celebrated with fireworks, more than 50,000 were African-Americans.
Memphians vote to secede from the Union; the city establishes a Confederate Army
headquarters and supply depot in Memphis.
Union forces defeat the rebels in a naval battle at Memphis; the city remains in Union
the war. The Civil War left Memphis relatively unharmed, but peace was heel. The North's
victory at the Battle of Memphis (which despite its grandiose name was a minor naval
skirmish on the Mississippi that lasted just a couple of hours), Union troops took possession
of the city. The presses for the city's newspaper, the Memphis Daily Appeal, were loaded
onto a railroad car and taken down to Grenada, Mississippi, where the Appeal continued
publishing on the run from Union troops. Back at home, for the remainder of the war,
Memphis life and business, particularly trading in cotton and contraband, went on relatively
A series of congressional acts facilitates the building of the nation's first transcontinental
railroad, the Union Pacific.
ABRAHAM SCHWAB DRY GOOD STORE
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Ca. 1865 was built. Located at 163-165 Beale Street,
Memphis, Tennessee, between Second and Third Street, their long-time motto "If you can't
find it at A. Schwab's, you are better off without it!". Those doors first opened in 1876 and
have remained open throughout urban renewal efforts, making Abraham Schwab the oldest
continuous business on Beale Street.
In 1912 Abraham Schwab moved his dry goods business from 149 into larger quarters at 163
Abraham Schwab sells jars of "Money Drawing Oil", bottles of "Most Powerful Helping Hand
Bath And Floor Wash", tins of "Come To Me Love Drawing Incense", or a jar, bottle or tin of
something made to satisfy whatever you need or desire can be purchased here.
Elvis Presley purchased "Triple Active Success Hair Oil" at Abraham Schwab in the early
1950s. Take a look at some John The Conqueror root - a mandrake named for the mythical
figure who tore off the Devil's arm and whipped his butt with it.
Virtually unchanged in
appearance since the opening, the oldest store on Beale claims "If you can't find it at
Schwab's, you're better off without it", but that assumes you do feel a need for 99 cent
Mississippi Slim Jim ties, grossly oversize clothes, and a specialty line of voodoo powders.
In 1912 Abraham Schwab moved his dry good business from 149 into larger quarters at 163
Beale Street. The family business had been on Beale Street since 1876, first as grocers then
as dry goods merchants. L. Bauer and Sons (dry goods) and then a Piggly Wiggly grocery store
occupied 164 Beale Street until Schwab took over the building in 1924.
Schwab's is the only original business still in operation on the street. Inside and out, it is a
remarkable holdover from old Beale Street. The iron attic vents and architectural design is
brought out by the deep rich colour of the red brick. The interior has high ceilings, wooden
floors, old style display bins, and a variety of merchandise which suggests the old-time dry
goods store. The original building shows the store front with an overhang that extended to
the curb to protect customers from bad weather, a common feature during this period.
In granting basic rights to ex-slaves (including the right to many to own land), the "Black
Codes" passed by most Southern state legislatures in the aftermath of the Civil War also
ensure segregation of public facilities. More than 2,000 passengers died when the steamboat
Sultana explodes and burns near Memphis.
It was a desperate time for proud ex-Confederates, who faced the humiliation of losing the
Civil War, their plantations, their slaves, and their rights. Confederate dead totalled 260,000
people, more than one-fifth of the South's entire white male population. Of the survivors,
thousand were maimed. A full 20 percent of Mississippi's total revenues in 1865 went to the
purchase of wooden limbs for wounded veterans. White Southerners bitterly watched their
former slaves transformed from servile plowshares into electoral swords, wielded again their
former owners by radical Republican politicians.
Beale Street became the center for African-American business and social activities in
Memphis, when Beale Street became the home of the Beale Street Baptist Church, the
street's first black religious institution. At first the church members gathered outdoors in an
old-fashioned brush arbor meeting, similar to the camp meeting of thirty years earlier but
minus the whisky. The sang the old shapenote hymns, so called because they were taught in
books that used shapes to symbolize the different notes. In 1871, the congregation made the
leap of faith and began construction of the historic church that still stands on Beale Street,
just west of Church Park.
THE WILLIAM M. RANDOLPH MANSION (ORIGINAL BUILDING DEMOLISHED)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- A super exemple of
Italian Renais sance architecture, the William M. Randolph Mansion stood among several
elegant mansions which occupied an area between Wellington (now, Danny Thomas
Boulevard) and Orleans.
A fire, excessive vandalism, and an inability to secure restoration funds, led to its demolition
William Randolph was a lawyer from Little Rock, Arkansas, who eventually became a judge in
Memphis. He built the Randolph Office Building in 1891.
In the late 1800s, Randolph
unsuccessfully argued for the rights of a black man to sit anywhere he wished on a train.
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court which determined that the railroad could sit
customers where they wanted as long as the seats were of equal quality. This 1896 decision
(Plessy v. Ferguson) established the policy of separate but equal facilities.
Formation of Fisk Jubilee Singers.
A secret society, the Ku Klux Klan founded in Pulaski, Tennessee, taking its name from
kuklous, Latin for "circle". The Ku Klux Klan, purportedly modeled after a college fraternity,
was organized by a handful of privileged young man, bored with civilian life after their
military experiences in the Civil war. What started as an isolated rash of mean-spirited
pranks soon spread throughout the South, degenerating into the violence and terrorism for
which the night riders of the Klan are remembered today. As the story goes, in 1867 local
heads from the various Klan "dens" met in Nashville to organize under a secret national
It was at this meeting that the distinguished Confederate general and prominent Memphis
businessman Nathan Bedford Forrest is said to have been installed as the grand wizard of the
Invisible Empire of the Ku Klux Klan. Before the Civil war, Forrest had been Memphis' leading
slave trader, the foremost dealer in human flesh in the largest slave market between the
eastern seaboard and New Orleans.
His market at 87 Adams Street in the north end of downtown which boasted "the best
assortment of field hands, house servants and mechanics", earned Forrest a reported one
hundred thousand dollars annually. Ever the canny businessman, he showed how healthy and
happy his slaves were with daily parades outside his market featuring his slaves singing and
playing fiddles. Ironically enough, these performances were some of the first documented
public performances by black musicians in Memphis.
General Forrest never swayed from his white supremacist convictions. After Emancipation,
the ex-general was allowed to legally continue what was for all intents and purposes slavery,
running a combination penal farm and cotton plantation for black prisoners on President's
Island just southwest of downtown Memphis. Forrest was considered important enough as a
Confederate hero and military strategist that today a statue in his honor stands in the park
at Union Avenue and Manassas Street that bears his name. The park and statue continue to
arouse protests from the city's African-American citizens, but so far with little effect.
APRIL 30, 1866 MONDAY
Like the rest of the South, Memphis took Reconstruction hard. Troops quartered in Memphis
at Fort Pickering trigger a three-day race riot. Forty-six people are killed and more than a
hundred buildings are burned. Beale historian George Lee writes in his Beale Street: Where
The Blues Begin, that it was caused by a fight between two young wagon drivers, one
African-American, the other Irish American, which resulted in the latter's death. The fight
escalated into a battle between back federal soldiers and local Irish cops bristling under
their new, lower status. However it began, white Memphians rioted for three days, burning,
looting, and raping their way through the black section of town. When it was over, forty-six
black Memphians were dead. No whites were reported killed.
Racial conflict was just beginning. Union loyalists in western Tennessee were frequently
attacked, and reports emerged from the city in late 1866 that gangs of unrepentant rebels
were confiscating guns from blacks. Things soon got worse for the freedmen and -women,
not just in Memphis but in all of Tennessee.
Robert Reed Church, black son who had served on his white father's boats as chief steward
became one of Memphis' first black saloonkeepers after the Civil War. At age twelve he went
aboard his father's riverboats as a cabin boy and advanced to the position of steward, in
charge of buying food and liquor. When federal troops commandeered his father's boats,
after a brief naval battle on the Mississippi River in 1862 put Memphis in the hands of the
Union, young Church used his experience to get a job ashore in a saloon. As an enterprising
black man, he was a target during the race riots of 1866, but he survived a gunshot wound
and went on to become the South's first African-American millionaire.
First collection of spirituals published: William Allen, Charles Ware, and Lucy McKim
Garrison's "Slave Songs Of The United States".
The boiling racial cauldron was soon overturned by a tiny mosquito, as yellow-fever-bearing
"galley-nippers" forever changed the face of Memphis. The disease had been a problem since
the city on the river was founded, and by war's and Memphis had already seen two minor
outbreaks. This year, the third yellow fever epidemic hit, killing hundreds.
In Memphis, the city's water cisterns, the fetid Wolf River, and the stagnant Gayoso Bayou
proved even more ideal environments for the deadly Aedes aegypti, as well as other
infectious insects and bacteria in profusion. In the oppressively humid summer heat minor
cuts often turned to gangrene, and major infections were almost invariably fatal.
Ever since the war, the region's black population had been leaving the plantations. The
exodus occurred so rapidly that, in 1867, cotton plantation owners considered various plans
to replace their lost labor force, among them importing Chinese workers. That idea had
worked successfully for the western railroads, but not on the plantation.
FIRST BAPTIST BEALE STREET CHURCH (HISTORICAL FIRST BAPTIST BEALE CHURCH)
(See: Historic Memphis)
1881 architects Edward C. Jones and Mathias H. Baldwin constructed the building.
at 379 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, Reverent Morris Henderson organized this church,
one of the oldest African-American congregations In Memphis, around 1854.
The poor and
small congregation met in a number of other buildings before it moved to its resent location.
They worshipped in a "brush arbor" before a small stone structure was built. In 1867
construction began on the basement of the present facility, but due to lack of funds,
completion of the church did not come until 1881.
The church's architecture is only a slight reminder of its past beauty. What remains is two
towers on either side of a rosette pattern of windows, which resemble the rotary dial of a
phone, and three large arched doorways. Originally, a great deal of Victorian ornamentation
was present in the pediment and in its towers. The right (west) tower supported a celtic
cross sitting on top of a cupola-like structure. In the early 1880s, the cross fell into the
center of the church during a windstorm. The other tower(east) bore a tin statue of John
The Baptist pointing to Heaven. One day a drunk climbed the roof and hacked off one of the
The end came in 1938 when lightening struck the statue. Workmen went up to make
repairs but accidentally dropped the statue off the roof, bending it beyond repair.
Black Tennesseans were given the right to vote, although the best government jobs
remained in the hands of carpetbagging whites. When the Ku Klux Klan arrived in Memphis,
some newspapers, such as the now-defunct Avalanche, supported it. Perhaps its harsh rule
of intimidation seemed preferable to the post-war chaos that kept alive Memphis' renown as
the wildest city on the Mississippi.
An estimated three thousand Memphians reportedly were addicted to opium, either smoking
it in pipes in the oriental style or taking it orally in socially acceptable laudanum, available
at every apothecary. Gambling and prostitution remained popular pursuits, and roving youth
gangs made travelling alone at night potentially fatal.
Unlike the night riders who terrorized rural blacks, the Memphis Klan took a less aggressive
tack, organizing boycotts of Unionist businesses and showing its strength in parades. There
were, however Klan-like organizations of a more sinister nature, such as the Supreme
Cyclopean Council. When a clandestine Supreme Cyclopean meeting was broken up on April
6, 1868, at Hernando and Beale Street, the group's hierarchy was found to unclude an
assassination committee targeting prominent Reconstructionists.
Tennessee was particularly ripe for racial strife, and its no surprise Memphis was the scene
of that first post-Civil War race riot. Mountainous East Tennessee, with no plantations
requiring a large labor force, had been a Unionist stronghold throughout the Civil war. It was
also the birthplace of Andrew Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency following Lincoln's
assassination. The Tennessean in the White House gave his home state special attention,
putting it through Reconstruction much faster than other Southern states. Cities like
Memphis tended to be refuges for freedmen, but the Klan also found safe haven there.
Arriving in the city shortly after the Nashville meeting, its first activities were recorded in
Beef is shipped from Detroit to Boston in a railroad car chilled with ice from the Great Lakes
- a primitive form of refrigeration.
Although hundreds of blacks fled Memphis, a sizeable population remained in the Beale
Street area. A series of yellow fever epidemics in the 1870s devastated the city of Memphis,
especially in 1878.
Section One Of The Fifteenth Amendment supposedly guarantees the "the right of citizens of
the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged... by any State on account of race,
colour, or previous condition of servitude".
The Grand Duke Alexis of Russia visits Memphis, the first member of European royalty to do
Business leaders organize the Cotton Exchange in Memphis to establish trading practices for
the regions' number-one crop.
Yellow fever returned in Memphis area, striking five thousand citizens and killing two
thousands. An attack of cholera took almost three hundred additional live.
NOVEMBER 16, 1873 SUNDAY
W.C. Handy was born in Florence, Alabama.
(See: Historic Memphis)
- (1873 - 1958) Handy is a musical icon, the Father of the Beale Street Bemoan
as well as the Beale Street Blues. In 1909 W.C. Handy's band was engaged by E.H. Crump's
forces to deliver the black vote to their man. In his campaign for mayor of Memphis, Crump
promised to clean up the city, particularly Beale Street. Though hired by Crump to promote
his campaign, Handy wrote a piece called "The Memphis Blues".
This was the first time the blues came out of the backwoods and the cotton fields, off the
levees, work camps, and lonesome roads to land on Main Street. Called "Mister Crump" at the
time, the piece was an immediate hit, launched W.C. Handy as a local celebrity, and helped
elect Crump mayor of Memphis.
Born William Christopher Handy on November 16, 1873 in Florence, Alabama, son of former slaves, eight years after
the Civil War, Handy said he received no musical talent from his parents, nor did he have any
encouragement from them when he showed promise in music. In fact, his father, a Methodist
minister, hinted that he would rather see him dead than pursue a career in music. But his
teacher knew music and taught his pupils to sing. By the age of 10, young Handy could
"catalogue almost any sound that came to (his) ears, using the sol-fa system".
Handy sang old-time country tunes, he played fiddlesticks with his uncle Whit Walker, a
former slave fiddler, Handy readily admitted that he had not created the blues but merely
transcribed and arranged the sounds he first heard in rural Mississippi, he has long been
attacked by jazz and blues purists as a thief and a charlatan. Handy's inspiration for the
blues grew out of his personal experiences and the life around him. But his conscious
decision to make the blues his forte was formed in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One night while
playing a dance, he was asked to play some of his native music. He tried to comply. The
request then came for a local group to be permitted to play. Three rather ragged young black
men began to play, as he recalled in his autobiography, "one of those over-and-over strains
that seemed to have no very clear beginning and... no ending at all. The strumming attained
a disturbing monotony, but on-and-on went, a kind of stuff that has long been associated
with cane rows and levee camps".
Before long, "A rain of silver dollars began to fall around the outlandish, stomping feet. The
dancers went wild". After it was over Handy strained his neck and saw "there before the boys
lay more money than my nine musicians were being paid for the entire engagement. Then I
saw the beauty of primitive music". Seeing that folks would pay money for this unpolished
music, Handy concluded "there was no virtue in being blind when you had good eyes".
Fighting both the general racism of the day and the low esteem in which musicians of all
races were generally held, Handy became an overachiever. No rounder he, Handy in his early
years led and arranged for bands, played a variety of instruments, and generally showed the
business acumen that would later help make him one of the first black music tycoons of the
Handy grew up in the midst of the brass-band craze, so his first instrument was the cornet,
on which he took lessons in a Florence barbershop. By nineteen he was teaching music
himself; soon thereafter, inspired by itinerant musician Jim Turner, Handy hit the road with
Mahara's Minstrels. He performed at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, the event generally
acknowledged as the birthplace of the ragtime craze. He travelled as far as Cuba with the
band, where he recalled first hearing the Afro-Cuban habanera rhythms that would later
turn up in the tango section of "St. Louis Blues". By 1902, a married man of nearly thirty,
Handy opted to settle down in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
It was shortly after arriving in Clarksdale that Handy first heard the blues at a railroad
station in nearby Tutwiler. As he waited for a train. Not long afterward, when Handy
witnessed the popularity of that Mississippi string band southwest of Clarksdale in Cleveland,
he began adding the local music to the band's repertoire, arranging such sons as "Make Me A
Pallet On Your Floor" for his band.
While his sojourn in Mississippi gave Handy a postgraduate course in the blues, he soon
outgrew Clarksdale. When the offer came to organize a Knights of Pythias band in Memphis,
Handy still based in Mississippi, began the twice-weekly, seventy-six-mile train commute, in
another demonstration of his strong work ethic. His K. of P. band, as he called it, was too
formal for dancing and so had to settle for the occasional funeral. Determined to break into
the bustling Beale scene, Handy moved his family up to the Greasy Plank section of Memphis
into a tiny shotgun house.
Handy was cheated out of his profits on the "Memphis Blues" when he published it in
September 1912. However, he lived long enough to have the copyright reverted to him 28
years later. When Handy, frustrated at not finding a publisher willing to invest in a new form
of music composed by a black man, published it himself. Handy composed "Memphis Blues"
while standing at the cigar stand at Pee Wee's, but his wife later revealed he'd actually
written it in a small apartment he used as a studio, writing songs there to escape the chaos
of a house full of children. Handy reacquired the rights to "The Memphis Blues" in 1940, just
as the song was being used in the Bing Crosby film The Birth Of The Blues.
royalty check for the tune he'd written thirty-one years earlier was five thousand dollars, a
tidy sum in pre-World War II dollars. Shortly after the fiasco with "The Memphis Blues",
Handy and his partner, Harry Pace, formed the Pace & Handy Music Company Publishers.
In 1914 Handy wrote the "St. Louis Blues", which became a national anthem and established
Handy in the forefront of American composers. His tale of the jilted country girl who lost her
man to the painted charms of that more sophisticated "St. Louis woman" turned the blues
from fad to full-fledged movement, the song defined the blues. Handy continued turning out
blues, such as "Yellow Dog Blues" and "Joe Turner's Blues".
Before Handy left Memphis, he paid tribute to the street that had been the catalyst for his
success. In 1916, Handy and Pace published their "Beale Street Blues", a song that found its
way into the repertoires of everyone from Louis Armstrong to the hillbilly string band Charlie
Poole & His North Carolina Ramblers.
In 1919, Handy and Pace moved to New York to recorded for Columbia Records. By the
1930s, Handy, then living in an upper-middle-class section in New York, was losing his
eyesight, and had turned to composing spirituals. Cynics might suggest that his conversion
was inspired by the phenomenal success that Thomas A. Dorsey was enjoying with "Peace In
The Valley" and other songs. On May 22, 1936, Handy and his sixteen-piece St. Louis Blues
Orchestra were returning to Memphis to begin a week's engagement at the Beale Street
Palace Theater. An April 22, 1936, article in the Commercial Appeal staked a Memphis claim
on Handy, saying he lived in New York for business purposes, but Memphis has always been
his home, the white folks of Memphis always his white folks.
In 1980, New York honors Handy the title "Father Of The Blues", and renaming a cession of
its jazz thoroughfare, Fifty-second Street, "W.C. Handy Place". In 1931 Memphis honoured
W.C. Handy by naming a park for him, and in 1949 he was named among the 10 outstanding
older men in the world. When Handy appeared on the Ripley Believe It Or Not! radio program
in 1938, New Orleans jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton was tuned in. Hearing Handy introduced
as "the Father of Jazz" as well as of the blues, the hot-tempered pianist fired off an angry
letter to Downbeat magazine.
Handy wrote patriotic songs foe World War II, including "There Is No Fifth Column On Beale
Street", celebrating the obvious lack of blond, blue-eyed Nazi spies in black Memphis. In
1947, the W.C. Handy Theater, declaring itself "the only negro theater south of Chicago that
is completely air-conditioned", opened on Park Avenue in Memphis, just east of Airways in
Orange Mound, the city's old black community.
Handy's career had begun before the blues were born; by the fall of 1954, as his old patron
E.H. "Boss" Crump lay dying and Elvis Presley was just beginning to enjoy some local success
with his first Sun singles, W.C. Handy, by then totally blind, was honored as a guest
performer with the Dixieland band at Billy Rose's Diamond Horseshoe nightclub in
Manhattan. In his lifetime he'd seen the blues go from a folk style in rural Mississippi to the
single most important innovation in twentieth-century American popular music.
W.C. Handy died of natural causes on March 28, 1958, in New York. He was buried in
Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, the burial site of such luminaries as Duke Ellington and
Bat Masterson, the western lawman who ended his career as a New York sportswriter.
Today the Handy Awards are presented in his honour each year at the Orpheum Theater on
Main Street, across Beale Street in Memphis by the Blues Foundation to recognize the
nation's outstanding blues musicians, W.C. Handy was a first-class stamp in 1969, decades
before Elvis Presley was even a gleam in 1992 in the postmaster general's income
W.C. HANDY'S HOME
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Located at 353 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this tiny shotgun
shack was Handy's home between 1908 and 1912, but not on Beale Street. It originally
stood a few miles south, at 656 Jeanette Place in Memphis, in the Greasy Plank section,
and was transported here during Memphis' mid-1980s museum-opening craze. Inside are
original furniture, photos, and sheet music, and a staff that does its best to make Handy
live up to his reputation.
Custer's last stand of Little Big Horn.
Reconstruction ends as Federal troops are withdrawn from the South.
In 1877 Thomas Edison invented a phonograph which could record and reproduce while
experimenting with a method of recording and repeating telegraph signals. Thomas Edison
files patent on a phonograph consisting of a metal cylinder with a fine spiral groove, two
diaphragm-and-needle units (one for recording, the other for playback) and a small
speakerhorn - a vast improvement over Leon Scotts' "phoneautograph" of 1855. The first
recording he makes is "Mary Had A Little Lamb''.
Alexander Graham Bell purchased Edison’s patent, which led to the formation of the
Columbia Phonograph Co. In 1887, Emile Berliner, founder of the Victor Talking Machine Co.,
was the first inventor to stop recording on cylinders and start recording on flat disks or
records. The machines, with their incessant appetite for new titles, slowly began to
challenge the sale of sheet music as a source of popular entertainment.
The prices of the phonographs and records began to drop in the 1890’s as the anticipated
market changed, and the spring motor was substituted for the earlier electric and treadle
versions. Once the selling price dropped below $40 a piece, the phonograph was well on its
way to becoming an instrument of mass popular culture.
General Sam T. Carnes sets up the first telephone system in Memphis. A few years later, he
will also demonstrate the first electric lights in Memphis, and bring in the city's first
Another Frenchman, Charles Cros, a poet and inventor of photographic colour processes
proposed that Scott's method be improved by photoengraving the trace onto metal with the
possibility of retracing the pattern resulting in the replay of the original sound. In July
Thomas Alva Edison, the prolific American inventor, discovered a method of recording and
replaying sound having followed a somewhat different line of research from Scott or Cros.
He filed a provisional specification for a British patent 2909/1877.
DECEMBER 24, 1877 MONDAY
Edison applied for the US Patent 200 521 which covered talking machines and sound writers
to be known as Phonographs. The first phonographs used tin foil cylinders.
A massive yellow fever epidemic devastated Memphis, when the first impact of the disease
was felt, 25,000 inhabitants fled the city in a two-week period. They left behind relief
workers, medical personnel, and a remaining population of 20,000 which consisted mostly of
poor Memphians: around 14,000 African-Americans and several thousand Irish. From the
middle of August to the middle of October, there were 17,6000 cases, 5,150 of which died;
Memphis' population is cut in half when thousands flee the city. Blacks, relatively immune to
the worst ravages of the disease, accounted for 12,000 cases, but only 946 or 7% died.
The bankrupt city eventually surrenders its charter. Though the newspapers advertised such
"cures" as Tabasco sauce, nothing helped, and a panic seized the city. In September 1878,
twenty-five thousand people fled in one two-week period. By the end of the month, there
were fewer than twenty thousand left the city. Of that, fourteen thousand were African-
The African-American population around Beale Street helped to manage the city, care for
the sick, and bury the dead. Two black militia groups, the Zouave Guard and the McCkellan
Guard, assisted in protecting residents from looters and total chaos.
The usual rumours of black men raping white women circulated, customary when white
Southerners of the time found themselves in a state of hysteria. The fact that many of the
blacks remained in the city to guard the homes and property of their white employers
garnered less attention.
The disease forever changed the cultural life of Memphis. Visitors today often wonder why
the city has no ethnic enclaves, none of the Little Italys or Greek Towns usually found in
cities the size and age of Memphis. The answer is simple. To escape the epidemics, ethnic
groups deserted the city en masse, including virtually the entire German population, which
took residence upriver in St. Louis. The recently arrived Irish, with no resistance to tropical
diseases and without the money to leave, died in the slums of the Pinch district.
Edison considered the use of compressed amplifiers to overcome the problem of lack of
replay volume. The Englishmen, Horace Short and C.A. Parsons (the steam turbine expert)
succeeded in perfecting the compressed air amplifiers known as Auxetophones but they
were eventually used for other purposes.
Memphis forfeited its charter, and it became a taxing district of the state.
Vigillio "Pee Wee" Maffei arrived in Memphis according to W.C. Handy, on a freight train from
New York, his point of arrival from Italy. Starting with just a dime, legend has it, Maffei was
able to win enough shooting craps to open a saloon at Hernando and Beale Street, later
moving to the 317-319 Beale location where W.C. Handy found him when he future Father of
the Blues arrived from Clarksdale in 1905.
Pee Wee's (or P. Wee's, as the sign outside read, allegedly the result of a sign painter's poor
planning) as a well-known musicians hangout. More than forty years later, Handy, in his
autobiography, still remembered the saloon's four-digit phone number, 2893. Pee Wee's was
an hangout for gamblers, as were most of the other Beale saloons, which stayed open
twenty-four hours a day, ranged from cooks and waiters to professional gamblers, jockeys
and race track men of the period. Glittering young devils in silk toppers and hookers drifted
in and out with insolent self-assurance. Chocolate dandies with red roses embroidered on
cream waistcoats loitered at their bar.
PEE WEE'S SALOON
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Ca. 1890. Memphis Sound Productions-original building demolished.
Located at 317 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. The most famous of Beale Street's
saloon's was P. Wee's, named after Virgilio Maffei, an Italian immigrant who arrived in
Memphis during the mid-1870s. He started out as a bartender at Gallina's Exchange but
opened his own saloon in 1884, a few doors away from its final location at 317 Beale Street.
Maffei, only four-and-a-half-feet tall, was supposedly so strong that he beat boxer Jack
Johnson, and others, in arm wrestling.
During hot summer evenings, he swam from the foot
of Beale Street across the Mississippi River to the Arkansas side. Maffei liked to gamble and
played with some of the biggest gamesters east of the Mississippi River.
Local high rollers, like Mac Harris and Casino Henry, frequented P. Wee's. Dressed in
chesterfield coat, pin-striped trousers, patent leather shoes, a homburg hat, and with his
mustache twisted up at the ends, Harris looked like a stately gentleman. In contrast Casino
Henry appeared nervous, constantly chewed gum, and had a strange habit of walking down
the middle of Beale Street.
A cigar stand, with a painting of Othello and Desdemona hanging above it, stood just inside
the saloon's door. Other than the bar, there were billiards and pool tables and an area for
dice and card games in the rear. A policy (or numbers) game operated from the second floor.
Many of Beale's saloons and cafes had some form of gambling. To protect themselves from
periodic raids, the clubs had an early warning system. P. Wee's used a lookout man with a
buzzer hidden under his shirt, as well as a backup unit that played dominoes all day and
watched for suspicious characters. During one incident, an undercover cop was first sent in.
When the regular police arrived, the undercover man grabbed the lookout's hand to keep
him from pressing the buzzer. The police took the entire back room to jail but they were
only fined one dollar each.
Maffei decided to tale it easy and during the 1890s made Lorenzo and Angelo Pacini
partners. Around 1913 he returned to Italy. The Pacini brothers operated the saloon until
around 1920. Sam, Lorenzo's son, kept it in the family until his death in 1941.
In the early 1900s, P. Wee's was a musician's hangout with a backroom closet crammed with
instruments. At the time, the saloon had the city's only pay phone over which prospective
clients contacted band leaders, especially W.C. Handy. He acted as agent for a number of
different bands selected from the pool of musicians at P. Wee's.
In 1909, according to
legend, Handy wrote "Mister Crump", later named as "Memphis Blues", on the saloon's cigar
counter. Handy's band performed "Mister Crump" at Edward H. Crump's mayoralty campaign.
Out of friendship, Handy dedicated "St. Louis Blues" to the Pacini Brothers.
In later years P. Wee's became a pool hall and than a laundry. In 1956 a one-story building
replaced the original structure which, in turn, fell to the wrecking ball in the early 1970s. A
new building was constructed in the 1980s.
THE HIGBEE SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (MEMPHIS ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CENTER - ORIGINAL BUILDING DEMOLISHED)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1887. Located at 565 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, Jennie M.
Higbee arrived in Memphis from New Jersey shortly after the Civil War. She established a
small school and from there became principal of the city's high school.
In 1880 she
purchased the Robertson Topp Mansion on the corner of Beale Street and Lauderdale and
opened a finishing school named The Higbee School For Girls, for young girls whose families
could be counted among the upper crust of society.
A new building was constructed a few years later and the Topp Mansion was relegated to a
dormitory. The school operated until 1914. The building remained vacant for several years,
until 1920, when it became the offices of the Tribe of Ben Hur, a fraternal society. Its last
occupant, from 1924 until it was torn down in the 1970s, was the Labor Temple. At one
time, the facility contained the headquarters for over 50 different unions.
BENSIECK BUILDING (ENTRANCE TO RUM BOOGIE CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1921, is constructed. Located at
182-184 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, Frank Bensieck owned property on the street
which he purchased in 1880. He operated his bakery and steam ice cream manufacturing
business, originally named Berton's Confectionery, at this address from 1878 to 1902, when
he sold it to William C. Smith.
Like many small businessmen of the time, he lived on the
premises. The original building was a three-story elongated structure with ovens in the rear
for baking. The present building was built after Bensieck retired.
In 1927 the west side of the building (182 Beale) contained the Beale Street Music Shop
before the Blue Light Photography Studio replaced it in 1932. In 1941 Blue Light relocated
their facility next to Lansky Brothers. Howard's Drug Store occupied the east side of the
building (184 Beale), from 1921 until 1945.
Paul's Tailoring Shop, operated by Paul J. Vescova, opened around 1948 and remained there
throughout the 1960s. He eventually took over the entire building. With his motto, "Where
the Smart Crowd Follows", and advertising expert tailoring and the latest in drape styles,
Vescova attracted many entertainers, such as Dwight "Gatemouth" Moore. He also had a tiein
with the Palace Theater, sponsoring events and acting as a ticket outlet.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.
Emile Berliner, an American of German origin, recorded ''The Lord's Prayer'' on an
Edison cylinder machine. The original recording is preserved by the BBC in London.
OAKEY'S SALOON (BEALE STREET BARBECUE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1884, is constructed. Located at 205 Beale
Street, Memphis, Tennessee. This beautiful Victorian-style building was built by John Oakey
who had previously occupied the building just to the west of it. The windows are
interconnected by brick arches at their heads, on top of which is an attractive cornice that
resembles a miniature roof. Oakey's liquor business dated back to the late 1860s and thrived
at this location from 1885 until 1912. He distributed the finest in bourbon and rye whiskies,
as well as cigars and tabacco, and also operated a saloon on the premise.
were the Ridolfi Pharmacy (1913-1915), the White Rose Cafe (1916-1922), and from the
early 1940s through the 1960s, Harry Leviton's Department Store.
Journalist and social activist, Ida Well-Barnett, settled in Memphis, Tennessee, teaching
examination for the Memphis public schools. In Tennessee she began her lifelong public
crusade against injustice and inequality, successfully suing in 1884 the Chesapeake and Ohio
Railroad Company for attempting to force her to sit in the smoking car that had been
designated for blacks. The lower court decision in Ell's favor was subsequently overruled by
the Tennessee Supreme Court.
(See: Historic Memphis)
- (1862-1931) Journalist and social activist. On July 16, 1862, Ida Bell
Wells-Barnett, a future journalist, club women, and militant antilynching crusader, was born
a slave in Holly Springs, Mississippi. The oldest daughter of slave parents James and
Elizabeth Bowling Wells, she received her public school education in Holly Springs and
attended Rust College, which was founded in 1866 as an industrial school for blacks in Holly
A yellow fever epidemic took the lives of Well's parents, leaving her, at the age of
14, in charge of her younger brothers and sisters. In order to support herself and her
siblings, Wells began teaching at the nearby rural school, while attending Rust College.
In 1884 Wells moved her family to Memphis, Tennessee, to be near an aunt and to obtain a
better-playing teaching position. While in Tennessee, Wells became part owner and editor of
a local black newspaper, the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight. Her previous journalistic
experience included occasional articles, primarily on race relations in the South, under the
pen name "Iola", for religious publications and black newspapers. In 1891 Weels lost her
teaching job in Memphis, following the publication in the Free Speech of articles critical of
the school system's unequal allocation of resources to black schools. The next year a Wells
editorial denouncing lynching in general and the lynching of three Memphis blacks in
particular resulted in the destruction of the Free Speech building and threats on her life.
Although forced thereafter to live outside the South, Wells continued her campaign against
racial injustice, especially the lynchings of black's, as a columnist for the New York Age, as
an author, and as a prominent lecturer on racial injustice in the Unites States and abroad. In
1895 she published a pamphlet entitled A Red Record: Tabulated Statistics and Alleged
Causes of Lynchings in the United States, 1892-1893-1894, which later appeared in London
under the title United States Atrocities. In her crusade against lynching, the articulate Wells
delivered numerous lectures, aided in the formation of antilynching societies in England,
and met with President William McKinley in 1898, along with other blacks, to protest the
lynchings of blacks. Her fight against injustice also led to the denunciation of black exclusion
from the Chicago World's fair in 1893. She collaborated with Frederick Douglass, Ferdinant
L. Barnett (whom she later married), and I. Garland Penn on a publication entitled The
Reason Why The Colored American Is Not In The World's Columbian Exposition - The African-
American's Contribution to Columbian Literature.
In 1895 Ida married Ferdinand Lee Barnett, Assistant State's Attorney for Cook County and
editor of the Chicago Conservator, the first black newspaper in Chicago. Wells then turned
her attention to local civic activities. She founded and served as an officer in numerous
women's groups, earning the tittle among some as the "Mother of Clubs". With money
provided by some of the organizations she was active in, as well as with her own personal
funds, Wells-Barnett travelled to Arkansas and Illinois to investigate race riots during World
War I and in the postwar years reported on them for various black newspapers. Up to the
time of her death in Chicago on March 25, 1931, Ida B. Wells-Barnett devoted her life to
fighting for full equality for blacks and women throughout the United States, but especially
in the South.
CLUB HANDY / PANTAZE DRUG STORE NO. 2 (JOYCE COBB'S CLUB)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 209-211 Beale Street.
With its windows recessed slightly from the facade to simulate the appearance of columns,
this building used to have a cornice at the tops. Ita window heads are cast-iron. From 1896
through the 1960s, it was a drug store, first of George H. Battier, then beginning in 1929,
the Pantaze Drug Store No. 2.
Abe Plough, who founded Plough Pharmaceuticals in 1908, became the proprietor of
Battier's Pharmacy around 1914. In 1920 he marketed the popular brand name St.
Joseph's Aspirin. Battier's and the Pantaze remained open 24 hours to accommodate the
community. They also acted as an emergency room for victims of Beale Street's violence.
Around the corner at 195 Hernando Street was the entrance to the second and third
floors. For years it had been used as a rooming house until the late 1930s, when it became
the Coloured Citizens Association. In the mid-1940s, Andrew "Sunbeam" Mitchell opened a
hotel on the third floor and used the second floor as a lounge.
Mitchell helped entertainers, like Little Richard and Roy Brown, who were stranded in
Memphis from lack of work. Musicians stayed in the hotel and were charged a nominal fee
for a bowl of chili, a feast fondly remembered by Beale Street regulars. The second floor
lounge began as a place for jam sessions where local and out-of-town musicians played.
At one time it was called the Domino Lounge and after W.C. Handy died, renamed the Club
Handy. Jazz and blues performers, such as Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Boy
Williamson, and Little Walter, among many others, performed there. Bill Harvey, the guru
of Memphis musicians, led the house band in the late 1940s. B.B. King eventually took
over the band. B.B. had played in Mitchell's Lounge beginning in the early 1950s.
A. GREENER AND SONS (NOW HARD ROCK CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1885, dry goods is constructed. This
building is now demolished, but was located at 308-312 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee.
The building, which stood on the northeast corner of Beale Street and Hernando, had a
varied history of occupancy. Grocers were the most frequent tenants from the turn of the
century up to 1923. In 1923, the blackowned Fraternal Savings Bank and Trust Company
moved here before merging with the Solvent Savings Bank. Greener's Department Store
served the community from 1928 until the early 1960s.
JANUARY 29, 1885 THURSDAY
Huddie Ledbetter was born January 15, 1885, on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport,
Louisiana. He was an only child who quickly became interested in music when he received
his first instrument (an accordion) from his uncle Terrell.
In 1903at the age of 15, Ledbetter
he began playing guitar at local parties and found his way into performing in dance halls in a
section of Shreveport, Louisiana called St. Paul’s Bottoms and known for its saloons, brothels
and dance halls. After traveling through Louisiana he settled in Dallas, Texas until 1908 when
he became ill and returned to Louisiana to stay with his parents for two years.
When recovered he went back to Dallas where he encountered for the first time the
instrument that would become the most integral part of his music, a 12 string guitar which
he named “Stella.” Ledbetter also reputed to have worked with Blind Lemon Jefferson in
this time, although some accounts suggest that he may have exaggerated their close
friendship. Later in life Ledbetter would record Lemon’s song “hot dogs” as a tribute to him.
He is one of America's greatest folk singer and composers, the man responsible for such
cherished songs as "Rock Island Line", "Goodnight Irene", "Cotton Fields", Take This Hammer",
"On A Monday", and "The Midnight Special".
Ledbetter was known to have a quick temper, a trait that got often him into trouble in the
venues he played. These were usually places where violence was common. In 1915 he was
jailed for assault and escaped to live for a short time under the alias of Walter Boyd. Two
years later he was jailed at Shaw State Prison for the murder of William Stafford. While in
prison, Ledbetter gained notoriety for his hard work and his musical abilities. He convinced
Texas Governor Pat Neff that he had seen the error of his ways by singing a ballad asking to
be pardoned. As one of Governor Neff’s last official acts in office in 1925, he pardoned
Ledbetter who soon returned to traveling and playing music. In 1930, however, Ledbetter
was convicted of attempted homicide in Louisiana and was sent to Angola State Prison.
It was at Angola Prison where Ledbetter was “discovered” by John Lomax, a folklorist who
was then traveling across the nation collecting recordings of prison music to be submitted to
the Library of Congress. Lomax recorded Ledbetter on two separate occasions and when the
blues artist was released in 1934 for good behavior he joined Lomax in his tour of prisons.
Ledbetter settled in New York City a year later and began recording. He struggled to produce
a “hit.” He was unsuccessful during his lifetime although six months after his death a folk
group called The Weavers adapted his song “Goodnight Irene” and turned it into a worldwide
A formidable and talented man, Huddie Ledbetter was instrumental in bringing the folk
tradition of Blues, which many thought to be on its way out, back into the public eye. Later
in his life he began showing symptoms of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly called
“Lou Gehrig’s Disease”). He passed away on December 6, 1949, in Bellevue Hospital in New
York City. Huddie Ledbetter’s body was returned to his native Louisiana. He was buried in
the Shilo Baptist Church graveyard near where he was born.
Edison was granted US patent 341 214 for a wax coated recording cylinder. This signified the
beginning of the end of the tin foil coated cylinder.
Emile Berliner, the inventor of the microphone ten years earlier, files for a patent for the
gramophone, which plays discs rather than Edison's cylinders (Berliner a few years later
invents a matrix system whereby an unlimited number of copies can be mass-produced from
an original master).
Berliner developed a successful method of modulating the sound-carrying groove laterally in
the surface of a disc. (The groove on cylinders was modulated vertically.) He also invented a
method of mass producing copies of an original recorded disc.
Memphis tests the first artesian wells, finally providing a clean and reliable source of water.
Memphis holds a celebration for Grover Cleveland, the first president to visit Memphis.
The Kodak box camera is introduced.
Jesse Lippincott, a financier, took over the commercial exploitation of the Phonograph and
the Graphophone as dictating machines on a lease and service contract. The Graphophone
had been developed by Edison's rivals, Chichester Bell (the brother of Alexander Graham
Bell) and Charles Tainter at the Volta laboratory and in terms of ease of operation and
fidelity of sound reproduction it was a vast improvement on the phonograph. The use of
either machine as an entertainment medium was still seen as a novelty.
The Oklahoma Landrush.
MORRIS LIPPMAN BUILDING (NOW KING'S PALACE CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890-facade redone in
1919, was built before 1890. Located at 166 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. Although a
stone indicates the construction of the building to be in 1919, the facade actually was
altered that year to celebrate the opening of Mirris Lippman's pawn shop.
the building in 1908 and the one next door (162/164 Beale Street) in 1911. Lippman
operated his business until 1935 when it became part of Epstein's Loan Office.
SAM SLAKY SHOE REPAIR (BLUES CITY CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890, was built, located on 140 Beale
Street, Memphis, Tennessee. This small size of this two- store building suggests that it may
have been a single residence. Yet in 1905 the first floor contained offices for the Hickok
Credit Company, a Justice of the Peace, two deputy sheriffs, and a bookkeeper. later, at
various times, it housed the Hoffman-Marks Jewelry Company, a clothing store, a restaurant,
and it was the original location of Capital Loans. Sam Salky's shoe repair store occupied the
first floor from the early 1930s until the late 1940s.
COMMERCIAL LOAN OFFICE (SAM'S TOWN)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890, was built before 1890. Located at
168 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this building has an interesting facade highlighted by
arched window tops and showing a cast-iron storefront. In 1906 pawnbroker Nathan
Karnowsky purchased the building for his business. From 1923 until the early 1960s, it
became the Commercial Loan Office. During the first half of the century, several black
physicians and dentists had offices on the second floor.
1880s - 1890s
An independent and viable African-American community began to take shape in the Beale
Street area between Second Street and Wellington (now, Danny Thomas Boulevard). With the
emergence of a small black middle class, African-Americans became established in various
businesses which grew in number after the turn of the century.
Nevertheless, from the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, many whites lived
and owned businesses in the neighbourhood. Jews owned pawnshops, clothing, and
department stores; Italians operated saloons, theaters, and grocery stores; Greeks ran
restaurants; Chinese managed laundries and restaurants; there were Irish, German, and
Coin-in-the slot public access replay facilities, a primitive form of juke box, which could be
used in amusement arcades, became immensely popular in the US creating a demand for
entertainment recordings, mainly comic monologues.
Mississippi's redrawn constitution includes a clause under which a prospective voter could be
required to read and interpret any part of the constitution in order to be eligible to vote.
This "literacy clause" becomes the model by which other Southern states disenfranchise
Columbia Records enters the record business with recordings of John Phillip Sousa.
Edison's Phonograph and the Bell-Tainter Graphophone were in intense competition for the
popular market. The Phonograph was beginning to prove the more popular, and the New
York Phonograph Company opened the first purpose-built recording studios.
THE MONARCH SALOON (MEMPHIS VISITORS INFORMATION CENTER)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1890, is constructed.
The saloon was located at 340 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. With a facade marked by a
multicolored variegated brickwork, a beautiful carved stone window emplacement which
recalls the Old World, and a cast-iron store front, this building is one of the most attractive
on the street. The original parapet was removed in the 1950s and later replaced during the
Its beauty belied the fact that The Monarch ranked high on the list of
Beale's most notorious gambling joints and saloons. Its heyday was from around 1902
through the teens.
Mirrors, which totally encased the lobby, hung above black cushioned seats that were built
into the wall. The entire length of the beautiful mahogany bar had brass rail fittings. The
gambling room in back was reinforced by brick and barricaded by a steel door to protect it
from raids. Upstairs a dance hall and poker rooms drew all kinds of patrons. W.C. Handy
frequented the dance hall to listen to its piano thumpers, Bennie Frenchie and Sonny Butts.
The Monarch's owner, Jim Kinnane, also operated saloons in North Memphis. He was a bigtime
politician, boss of the first ward.
The Monarch, nicknamed the "Castle of Missing Men" because of its reputation for murders,
conveniently stood near the undertaking establishment of Levi McCoy. McCoy lay claim to
most of those killed in the saloon. The Monarch was home to many of Beale's tough
characters, like Bad Sam, Cousin Hog, and Long Charlie. It also earned some notoriety for a
famous duel in 1918 between Ben Griffin, a short but tough hood, and Johnny Margerum,
white underworld boss of the Monarch.
Griffin carried two guns, one in his belt and another tucked away in a shoulder holster. Even
the police stayed clear of him. One evening, after checking one of his pistols at the door,
Griffin went upstairs to gamble.
He returned downstairs and went into the kitchen where,
for some reason, he got into a fight with another patron. Margerum, just entering the
saloon, heard the commotion and rushed to the kitchen. He ordered Griffin to stop hitting
the man. Griffin shouted back, "I'm going to hit this man wherever I please", and pulled his
second gun firing two bullets into Margerum. As Margerum fell, he fired back. Both men died
within ten minutes. Such events became part of the folklore of Beale Street.
BEALE AVENUE MARKET/HANDY SQUARE BUILDING (ALFRED'S) ELVIS PRESLEY'S MUSIC NOTE
(See: Historic Memphis)
Before 1890. Similar to the brass stars on the sidewalks in Hollywood, Memphis has lined its
famous street with brass musical notes dedicated to the stars who got their start on Beale
Street. Elvis Presley's musical note is located at 197 Beale Street, near the entrance of
Alfred's (formerly Kings Palace Cafe) and across the street from W.C. Handy Park.
died in 1993, Clarence "Pops" Davis stood outside Alfred's greeting patrons with a patter that
went something like "W.C. Handy, he's a personal friend of mine... Elvis, he's a personal
friend of mine... gimme a dollar". Cary Hardy and the Sun Studio Trio, a rock and roll covers
band led by the current owner of the Sun studio, play here regularly.
The present building is a combination of 197 and 199/201 Beale Street. The first address is
easy to spot with its white stucco exterior and its set of arched windows lining the front and
side of the first floor. The original occupant, Louis Vaccaro, operated his saloon and
restaurant, with chili and macaroni specialties, from the mid-1880s until the mid-1910s.
This building was the site of a major Beale Street disaster: the failure of the Solvent Savings
Bank and Trust Company. This black-owned bank moved to 197 from 386 Beale in 1925. The
bank failure dealt a severe blow to the Beale Street economy, affecting more than fifteen
thousand black depositors and over fifty black businesses.
In 1929 the Beale Avenue Market, under various owners, occupied the ground floor for over
twenty-five years, until the Forty Minute Cleaning Company replaced it. Since the mid-
1920s, the second and third floors, referred to as the "Handy Square Building", contained
the offices of several black professionals, such as Dr. O.B. Braithwaite, a dentist, and A.A.
Latting, a lawyer.
Next door, at 199/201 Beale Street, various businesses were present until 1945, when the
original King's Palace cafe settled in as the building's final tenant.
LIPPMAN'S/NATHAN NOVICK'S LOAN OFFICE (BLUES HALL/PART OF RUM BOOGIE CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Before 1890. Located at 174/176-178 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. The addresses cover three separate buildings, although 176-178 Beale Street look like the same structure. Originally, 178 Beale Street was smaller in height and length from 174-176 Beale Street, but sometime after 1888 a new building was constructed to blend in with the other two. In the 1930s the store fronts were remodelled with a tile covering to enclose vent windows just above the entrances. Nathan's has the black tile.
The upper portion of the building are beautifully done. Note the circular vents, the curved brick overhangs at the window heads which are set in relief from the facade, and the decorative brick work at the cornice near the building's apex.
From around 1900 to 1916, the Lippman family ran a pawn shop at 174 Beale Street. Louis Lerner, the name imprinted on the entrance way tile, bought the business in 1917 and operated it as Lippman's Loan Office through the 1960s. He specialized in diamonds, watches, jewelry, and clothing. A variety of business occupied 176-178 Beale Street: grocers, book dealers, a liquor distributor, the Dixie Photography Studio, and from the mid-1940s through the 1960s, Nathan Loan Office.
Nathan that has been erroneously pointed out on Memphis tours for years as the place where Elvis Presley bought his first guitar. In reality Elvis bought his first guitar at the Tupelo Hardware Store in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1946. How this misconception got started is hard to say, but it hasn't hurt Nathan Novick's business.
HAMMITT ASHFORD'S SALOON (BUILDING DEMOLISHED)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890, is constructed.
Located at 350 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this was the site of Hammitt Ashford's
Saloon, reputed to have been the fanciest wateringhole on Beale during the first decade of
the 1900s. On the first floor, rows of chairs lined one side of the room, facing a mahogany
bar which an the length of the opposite side. The room's center had several marble tables, a
perfect location to view the numerous paintings of women which covered the walls. In
another section were pool and billiard tables. The upstairs had a glittering carpeted lounge
with muslin drapes, white wallpaper, and imported chandeliers.
The saloon was the scene of one of Beale's most tragic occasions, the murder of five
gamblers by Wild Bill Latura in 1908. Latura, a white businessman who had a penchant for
gambling, had a trigger temper and vindictive personality. His killing spree concerned an old
grudge with Ashford. Brought to trial, Latura was never convicted for these as well as for
two other murders. In 1916 Sandy Lyons, a Memphis policeman, outgrew Latura and shot
him to death.
Ashford wore snazzy, expensive clothes and a three-carat diamond tiepin. He later left for
St. Louis, after having been acquitted for the murder of gambler Fatty Grimes. It may be
poetic license that the undertaking establishment of Barnett and Lewis replaced Ashford's
saloon in 1910. Other businesses followed, but the Wilson Drug Company occupied the
building from 1941 through the 1960s. It was a popular hangout for high school students, a
neighbourly place where one could relax and sip an ice cream soda or leave a message for a
MIDWAY CAFE (BUILDING DEMOLISHED)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- before 1890 is constructed. Located at 357 Beale
Street, Memphis, Tennessee, Samuel Volpi operated his grocery store at this location from
the 1890s until 1907. Two years later Joseph Raffanti opened a saloon at this address which
he named the Midway Cafe in 1928. Although the type of business changed from a saloon to
a billiard parlor, a restaurant, and finally a liquor store, the Raffanti family remained at the
helm through the 1960s. Like most of the gambling houses on Beale, a restaurant filled the
front part of the building.
This legendary cafe was well known for its blues pianists. Memphis Slim's first job took place
at the cafe in 1931. Booker T. Laury, Piano Red, Roosevelt Sykes, and Sunnyland Slim were a
few of the other pianists who played at the Midway.
George Washington Johnson's "The Laughing Song" and "The Whistling Coon".
GALLINA BUILDING (SILKY'S O'SULLIVAN'S PATION)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1891, constructed by architect J.C. Alsup,
located on 177-181 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, "Squire Charles Gallina opened a
saloon in a one-story building in the late 1860s.
After acquiring adjacent property, he
commissioned J.C. Alsup to build the Gallina Building in 1891. Better known as Gallina's
Exchange, (also known as "The Pride Of Beale Street) the building housed a saloon,
restaurant, and a twenty-room hotel. Performers from the Hopkins Grand Opera House and
the Bijou Theater, further away on South Main, used it as a residence. The Gallina family
occupied an apartment on the top floor. Several offices, as well as a gambling and a race
horse room, were located upstairs. Gallina owned several horses and his building buzzed
with the jabber of the sporting crowd. As an officer of the County Court and as a magistrate,
Gallina held court on the second floor over his saloon. He died in 1914.
Over the years other businesses occupied the first floor, including the American Pharmacy,
Morris Pinstein's Clothing Store, the Memphis Meat Company, and various dry goods and
hardware businesses. Dr. R.Q. Venson, a well-known black dentist, had his office on the
second floor for more than twenty-five years, beginning in the early 1940s. In the 1880s
Edgar S. Goens, a popular black barber, who also owned quite a bit of property, occupied a
building next to Gallina's saloon prior to the construction of the Gallina Building. He
continued his business in a new small one-story building next to Gallina'a Exchange until his
retirement in 1916.
Unfortunately, the facade of this building, supported by six indifferent rust-colored steel
girders, is all that now remains of a glorious past. Each of the hotel rooms had a stonemantled
fireplace; the saloon was lined with walnut panelling; and there were skylights over
the stairwells. The incredible facade with its exquisite brickwork, massive brick arches
framing the third story windows, and an orange terra-cotta cornice at the top on both sides
of the structure, demonstrate why the building was referred as to "The Pride Of Beale
THE RANDOLPH BUILDING (THE ELVIS PRESLEY STATUE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
– Original building demolished. Named
for lawyer William M. Randolph, the Randolph Office Building stood on this site, now
occupied by the Elvis Presley statue and the Memphis Light, Gas, and Water Company. The
finest and largest office building in the city during the 1890s, the Randolph Building had
seven stories, such as record store Home Of The Blues, 240 offices, and its own water supply
drawn from an artesian well dug 400 feet through the basement.
Constructed of brick and iron, the design was from the Florentine Renaissance. William
Randolph and his two sons had their law offices in the building. The Randolph Mansion, stood
a few blocks east at 546 Beale Street.
The Presley statue, dedicated on August 16, 1980, this nine-foot-high bronze statue of Elvis
Presley took sculptor Eric Parks three years to complete. The fringe on Elvis' bronze jacket
has been removed by fans, and the base of the statue is covered with devotional graffiti,
similar to what is found on the wall surrounding Graceland.
The boll weevil crosses the Mexican border into Texas and eventually spreads to most
cotton-growing regions, including the Mississippi Delta.
Memphis spans the Mississippi River with the Frisco Bridge, the first railroad bridge south of
St. Louis and the third-longest in the world.
First public showing of an Edison kinescope.
Memphis regains its city charter. Cossitt Library, the city's first, opens to the public.
John Persica opened the Persica Saloon on Hernando Street. Persica was "the most notorious
of the underworld overlords" of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In
addition to his Hernando club, Persica bought the city's old car barn after the electric
streetcar lines were consolidated and converted it into the garden Theater. He also
promoted boxing and controlled gambling south of Madison Street. On November 13, 1913, John Persica was killed in a auto accident and is buried in Calvary Cemetery in an unmarked grave.
While most of the saloons in the area were for blacks, the brothels, primarily employed
light-skinned black women, were mostly exclusive to white patrons. Sporting houses, which
lined Main Street south of Linden, could also be found along Third, Fourth, and Mulberry
Street. The biggest and fanciest were on Gayoso Street between Union Avenue and Beale
Street. At 121 Gayoso, Grace Stanley ran her infamous Stanley Club - that is until a dispute
with one of her "girls" ended with her murder at the point of a knife.
EPSTEIN'S LOAN OFFICE (ENTRANCE TO KING'S PALACE CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1894 was built. Located at
162-164 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this stylish building features a cast-iron store
front, a stone arch over the middle second story window, a carved stone parapet, a classical
type of cornice, and a cast-iron cap at its apex. Originally, the building had bay windows set
off by the same type of carved stone as the parapet, as well as an overhang located just
below the second story window.
Prior to 1920 its businesses included dealers in furniture, dry goods, women's clothing, and
hardware. Around 1928 William Epstein opened his loan office which operated at this
location through the 1960s.
From the 1910s on, many noteworthy black physicians, dentists,
and lawyers, such as Drs. C.A. Terrell and L.G. Patterson, had their offices on the second
floor. The walk-up was also one of the locations of two of the most important black
businesses in Memphis. The Hooks Brothers Photography Studio and the Memphis World, a
By now recorded music as a medium of entertainment had become firmly established with
the public. The demand for recordings provided the incentive for research and investment
in the infant record business.
ROSENBAUM AND MENDEL FURNITURE (GIRLS INC. OF MEMPHIS)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1895, was built. Located at
146-152 Beale Street, originally a two-story building with the third floor added sometime
after 1907, it was the retail outlet of the Morris Rosenbaum and Ike Mendel Furniture
Company from 1896 to 1915.
The store manufactured furniture in their annex on Second
Street, just around the corner of Beale Street. The Rosenbaum family came to Memphis from
Cincinnati in the late 1860s to open a stove and tinware business. In 1918 Rosenbaum left
the furniture business to become a partner in a saloon which, under the name Locker Club,
had the distinction of becoming Memphis' first speakeasy.
Subsequent businesses were usually furniture and clothing stores. The original stairway to
the upper floors stood just to the left of the building's center. Its facade is simple but has
appealing lines and ornamentation. A small cast-iron cap, once adorned the top of the
building. In 1974 about 35 feet was removed from the back portion of the building.
Eldridge R. Johnson designed and manufactured a clockwork spring motor which helped
establish F. Seaman's National Gramophone Company of New York as a serious rival to the
Phonograph and the Gramophone Companies.
Plessy v. Ferguson: In upholding an 1890 Louisiana statute mandating separate but "Equal"
railroad cars for blacks, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the equal protection clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment (ratified in 1866) had guaranteed blacks political, but not social,
equality. Ironically, the railroad lines were among those calling for repeat of the Louisiana
state law. The court's decision made white compliance with subsequent "Jim Crow": laws
mandatory, not discretionary.
PLESSY V. FERGUSON
- In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of
the "separate but Equal" principle in public transportation facilities for whites and blacks. In
doing so it affirmed the role of states in controlling social discrimination, and, many argue,
the decision actually promoted enforced segregation. The number of Jim Crow laws
increased rapidly during the following years.
The case originated in Louisiana, which had a statue requiring separate-but-equal
accommodations for whites and blacks on railroad cars.
In 1892 Homer Adolph Plessy
purchased a train ticket from New Orleans to Covington, Louisiana. Plessy, seven-eighths
white and on-eighth black, sat in a "white only" car and refused to move to a "colored"
He was arrested for violating the "Jim Crow Car Act of 1890". The "Citizens
Committee to Test the Constitutionality of the Separate Car Law", a group of 18 blacks, had
instigated the incident, choosing Plessy as the example and making sure train officials knew
his racial status. Their attorney was Albion Winegar Tourgee, a carpetbagger during
Reconstruction and author of the Reconstruction novel A Fool's Errand.
Four years later, the Supreme Court heard the case and voted seven to one (Justice David
Brewer did not participate" against Plessy. In the majority opinion Justice Henry B. Brown
wrote: "We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff's argument to consist in the
underlying assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race
with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but
solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction on it".
Furthermore, he wrote, "The argument also assumes that social prejudices may be overcome
by legislation, and that equal rights cannot be secured to the negro except by an enforced
commingling of the two races. We cannot accept this proposition. If the two races are to
meet upon terms of social equality, it must be the result of natural affinities, a mutual
appreciation of each other's merits and a voluntary consent of individuals".
Ironically, the only southerner then serving on the Court, Justice John Marshall Harlan, cast
the sole vote against the final decision. In the minority opinion he asserted the equality of
all men with regard to the civil rights "as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land". He
stated, "our Constitution is colorblind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among
citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law".
Not until the 1950s did Supreme Court decisions, most notably in Brown v. Board of
Education (1954), begin to dissolve the Court's sanction of the concept of separate but
equal. For more than a half century, the principle had dictated the social treatment of
blacks, with "equal" facilities providing the legal rationale for segregation. Finally, though,
what had been the minority opinion in Plessy became that of the majority, a belated
response to Justice Harlan's statement that "the thin disguise of 'equal' accommodations for
passengers in railroad coaches will not mislead any one, nor atone for the wrong this day
JIM CROW - This term used to describe African-Americans probably originated in 19thcentury
minstrelsy. It has also been suggested that the term referred to a slave trader or an
escaped slave, but the most generally accepted explanation credits a white minstrel
entertainer, Thomas "daddy" Rice, with popularizing the term. He performed a song-anddance
routine called "Jump Jim Crow", beginning in 1828. With face blackened from burnt
cork and dressed in the rags of a beggar, Rice skipped on stage doing a shuffling dance,
comically singing "I jump his' so/An' every time I turn about I jump Jim Crow". He cited an
old Louisville slave belonging to a Mr. Crow as the inspiration for the act, having observed
him entertain other workers in a livery stable.
By the late 1830s Rice had made "Jim Crow" a
part of his promotional name. He helped to put the blackface character into American
entertainment and introduced a term to the language.
The story of the term Jim Crow is apparently more complicated than this traditional
explanation of its origins. Jim Crow was probably first used outside of minstrelsy, to describe
segregated facilities in the North. Mitford M. Mathews in A Dictionary of Americanisms (1951)
cites a reference to a separate railroad car for blacks in Massachusetts in 1841, and Mathews
also notes an 1842 item from The Liberator referring to the "negro pew" and the "Jim Crow
Car". Leon Litwack in North of Slavery (1961) used the terms to describe segregated
facilities in the pre-Civil War North.
In the late 19th century the name Jim Crow took on a new meaning, symbolizing the
southern system of legal segregation that emerged after the Civil War. "Jim Crow Law" first
appeared in the Dictionary of American English in 1904, but laws requiring racial segregation
had appeared briefly in the South during Reconstruction. They had generally disappeared by
1868, although the persistent custom of segregation did not disappear. Tennessee passed a
Jim Crow statute in 1875, and increasingly in the following years blacks and whites were
segregated throughout the South on trains, streetcars, steamboats, and port facilities. In the
mid-1880s African-Americans were barred from white hotels, restaurants, barber and beauty
shops, and theaters. By 1885 most states in the South were legally mandating segregated
schools. The state constitutional reforms in Mississippi in 1890 and South Carolina in 1895
codified segregation laws, and other southern states soon followed. In 1896 the U.S.
Supreme Court upheld the Jim Crow "separate-but-qual" principle in Plessy v. Ferguson.
These Jim Crow segregation laws were, according to historian C. Vann Woodward, "the
public symbols and constant reminders" of the African-Americans inferior position in the
South. "That code lent the sanction of law to a racial ostracism that extended to churches
and schools, to housing and jobs, to eating and drinking", concluded Woodward. It separated
the races in sports and recreational activities, on all forms of public transportation, in
prisons, asylums, orphanages, hospitals, and even in funeral homes and cemeteries. The
terms Jim Crow came to stand for racial segregation and was physically embodied in
separate water fountains, eating places, bathrooms, Bibles in courtrooms, and pervasive
signs stating "Colored" and "White" that gave the term a concrete meaning for southerners.
THE RIECHMAN-CROSBY CO. WAREHOUSE (BEALE STREET LANDING)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1896-1921 is built,
located southwest corner of Beale Street and Wagner Place, Memphis, Tennessee. This was
the location of the Pittsburch Coal Company. The warehouse, its facade now greatly altered,
was built for the Riechman-Crosby Company, at the time the largest mill and factory supply
outlet in the South. An overhead walkway across Wagner Place connected the warehouse to
the main offices on Front Street. The company moved in the 1950s. The Illinois Central
Railroad car shed once stood in the parking lot on the opposite side of Beale Street.
Eldridge Johnson, founder of the famous "His Master Voice" Trade-Mark Gramophone 1898
(with Nipper) (See Other Record Labels).
PANAMA CAFE (THE RITZ-ORIGINAL BUILDING DEMOLISHED)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1897 is constructed. Located
at 351 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, the original three-story building was torn down in
the 1970s and replaced by the present structure. The older building contained a saloon and
gambling house which had tragic endings for three of its owners.
In 1902 Milton L. Clay changed his Italian grocery, operated by Dominico Volpi, into a saloon.
He also owned a barber shop next door at 349 Beale. Clay, a black man, graduated from Fisk
University and taught school in Mississippi before becoming a Memphis businessman. He
became vice-president of the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company.
Clay's saloon was a
favorite of the race horse and betting crowd. Before the state outlawed pari-mutuel betting
in 1906, Memphis had legalized horseracing, first at Montgomery Park and later at the North
Memphis Driving Park. In 1911 a vindictive customer, who had been beaten up by the police
in Clay's saloon, took it out on its owner by murdering him in front of Jackson's Drug store at
327 Beale Street.
In 1909 Clay went into the hay and grain business. He let Thomas R. Dockery, his barkeeper,
run the saloon (351 Beale) and Charles Givins, his manager, operate the barber shop (349
Beale). Dockery died under suspicious circumstances in an automobile accident in Mississippi
Amos "Mack" McCullough succeeded Dockery. At various times, McCullough ran several
billiard parlors, a grocery store, a restaurant, a cab company, and just before his death, the
Union Drug Store. In 1921 he changed the name of his restaurant at 351 Beale to the Panama
Cafe and put in a billiard parlor next door. His cab company operated out of the cafe.
McCullough advertised his place as "The Panama Soda Fountain Cafe", where you would find
good fellowship, and good food and drink. In actually his cafe and billiard parlor had, like
many businesses on Beale, a backroom for gambling and a hidden quantity of bootleg liquor.
Jimmy Turpin operated the games which had three shifts and ran all night. In 1929
McCullough was shot three times just as he opened the door to his house, apparently the
victim of a gangland slaying.
The Panama Cafe stayed in operation throughout the 1930s, until it was converted to a
liquor store around 1940 and afterward a legitimate restaurant, Selma's Luncheonette.
Bob Cole's "A Trip To Coontown". Annexation of the Hawaiian Islands.
BEALE STREET MARKET HOUSE AND COLD STORAGE PLANT (HANDY PARK)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Weathers and
Weathers, architects 1898, located north side of Beale between Third and Hernando,
Memphis, Tennessee. The markethouse, at the time one of two such facilities in the city,
replaced an older, outdate market place. It had a centrally located dome flanked by two
three-story wings. The first floor contained more than thirty meat, fish, and vegetable stalls,
plus such business as barber, shoemaker, hat, and tailor shops. The west side of the second
and third floors had large cold storage rooms for meat and fish. The east side had space for
The second floor administrative offices faced Beale and opened onto a large
balcony by means of four French doors. The diverse ethnic make-up of the markethouse
included a large number of black business.
In 1930 the markethouse was torn down to make way for Handy Park. It was formally
dedicated to the famous composer in 1931. Many blues musicians, such as Robert Johnson,
Furry Lewis, and B.B. King, as well as the ever-popular jug bands, played for hangouts in the
park. After W.C. Handy died in 1958, a statue of him was erected in 1960.
Columbia Records opened its doors, and Scott Joplin recorded "The Maple Leaf Rag".
First black millionaire, Robert Church, continued to show his loyalty to the city of Memphis
that had made him rich. While white Memphis was still debating the creation of a segregated
park system for itself, Church built a park for black Memphis. Church Park and Auditorium on
Beale Street, east of Fourth Street opened a year before the Memphis city government
announced its park system plan.
Robert Church later built the Dixie Church Park amusement facility, the $50,000 auditorium,
seating 2,000 people, and six acres of landscaped grounds, described by W.C. Handy as "a
suntanned Coney Island". Dixie Park, with its rides and its bandstand, provided work for
brass bands such as Handy's and was a favorite spot for thousands of black Mid-Southerners.
ROBERT CHURCH PARK
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1899/1920s is constructed. Located at 391 Beale Street, Memphis,
Tennessee, the architect is possibly Robert Church, Sr. Robert Church, Sr., said to be the
first African-American millionaire in the South, built Church's Park and Auditorium in 1899
on six acres of land for the Memphis black community. Church made his money in real estate
and, in 1906, founded the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company. Beautiful landscaped
with walks and flower beds, peacocks roamed freely throughout the park. Outdoor
recreational facilities were available for children and, during the warmer months, fraternal
bands and W.C. Handy's Orchestra played from the open-air band stand.
The major attraction, the auditorium, could seat 2000 in its theater. It also contained a large
banquet hall underneath the stage. In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt spoke in the
auditorium to an audience of 10,000 which overflowed into the park. Numerous conventions
and meetings took place, including those of the Lincoln Republican League and the NAACP.
Many national theatrical troups, vaudeville acts, and touring orchestras made appearances,
and public dances were also held.
Church's son, Robert Church, Jr., also became an important businessman and political figure.
He founded the Lincoln Republican League which strove to register black voters and also
organized the first branch of the NAACP in Tennessee in 1917. As a powerful republican
leader, Church was consulted by the national party on many occasions. In 1921 Church sold
the park to the city for $85,000. They razed the original auditorium and built a new one.
This also fell to the wrecking ball during the early 1970s. All that remains is a park
established in the 1980s.
A significant number of black professionals, businessmen, and landowners were present,
such as physicians, dentists, lawyers, pharmacists, restaurant owners, tailors,
photographers, undertakers, teachers, barbers, and real estate brokers. African-Americans
owned newspapers, banks, hotels, life insurance companies, saloons, fraternal clubs and
societies, churches, entertainment agencies, and various mercantile establishments, such as
clothing stores, jewelry shops, and beauty salons in the Beale Street area. Beale Street was
the center for blacks social and civic activities, including church and political conventions,
school proms, club gatherings, the Cotton Makers Jubilee (the black version of a carnival
saluting the role of cotton in Memphis' economy), and the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to Beale Street, other major black residential and business enclaves existed in
South and North Memphis, Orange Mound, Binghampton, and in Hollywood, among others.
Beale Street was the hub of social, civic, and business activity for blacks not only in Memphis
but in the entire Mid-South.
CIVIL RIGHT MOVEMENT
(See: Historic Memphis)
- After the Civil War many black leaders worked for equal status
between blacks and whites. The most prominent spokesman for this aspiration in the early
20th century was W.E.B. Du Bois. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored
People was founded in 1909, and a year later the National Urban League was organized.
Nonetheless, the nation made little progress in the field of civil rights until the end of World
The emergence of New Deal social programs and the egalitarian rhetoric of World war II
produced a change in American thought and helped to undermine the intellectual
justification for racial segregation in the South.
In turn, this development produced a
gradual but significant shift in the role of the federal government. President Harry S. Truman
identified his administration with the movement for equal rights. In 1948 Truman issued an
executive order eliminating segregation in the armed forces. He also called for a Fair
Employment Practices Commission and a ban on poll taxes. Although Congress rejected
Truman's legislative program, he established civil rights as a national issue. Moreover, the
federal courts began to adopt a broader reading of the equal protection clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. During the late 1940s several Supreme Court decisions outlawed
segregation in interstate transportation and higher education. This trend culminated with
the historic 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which proscribed compulsory
segregation in public schools as a violation of the equal protection clause.
Important new development also took place at the state level and in the private sector.
Several northern states passed laws against racial discrimination. In 1946 Jackie Robinson
became the first black to play major league baseball. Four years later diplomat Ralph Bunche
became the first black to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
The NAACP led the legal battle against segregation, working for civil rights legislation and
instituting litigation to compel desegregation of public schools in the South. Despite the
Brown ruling and pressure from the NAACP, only a limited amount of racial integration
occurred in southern school between 1954 and 1964. Most southern states rallied to the
banner of "massive resistance" and sought to obstruct implementation of racial
desegregation. President Dwight D. Eisenhower did not envision an active role for the
federal government in promoting school desegregation. Nonetheless, he did send federal
troops to Little Rock in 1957 when state authorities attempted to block implementation of a
court-ordered desegregation plan.
Other organizations also struggled for equal rights. Foremost among these was the Southern
Christian Leadership Conference, headed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Late in 1955 blacks
in Montgomery, Alabama, under King's guidance, began nonviolent protest by instituting a
successful boycott of the city's segregated bus system.
During the early 1960s the civil rights movement underwent several important changes.
After a period of hesitation, President John F. Kennedy placed the executive branch of the
federal government squarely behind desegregation efforts. In 1963 Kennedy endorsed a
broad civil rights proposal to outlaw segregation in public accommodations. At the same
time, many blacks grew impatient with the slow progress in achieving desegregation. Blacks
increasingly resorted to direct forms of protest. There were sit-ins at segregated lunch
counters and Freedom Rides that challenged segregation in transportation facilities.
The civil rights movement may have reached its climax in August of 1963 when more than
200,000 persons took part in the March on Washington. King, who had emerged as the
leading spokesman for the civil rights movement, delivered an impassioned plea for racial
equality. President Lyndon B. Johnson responded to this initiative by calling upon Congress
to enact sweeping civil rights legislation. The resulting Civil Rights Act of 1964 required
equal access to public accommodations and outlawed discrimination in employment. The
Voting Rights Act of 1965 suspended literacy tests in several states and strengthened federal
protection of the right to vote. The Twenty-fourth Amendment, ratified in 1964, barred poll
tax requirements for participation in federal elections. Subsequently the Supreme Court
declared unconstitutional the poll tax in state elections. Thus, by the mid-1960s the civil
rights movement had attained most of its original objectives, which concerned conditions in
The late 1960s saw a maked shift in the goals of civil rights leaders. The large-scale
migration of blacks to northern cities, which had begun by World War I, produced recurrent
ethnic conflict in urban neighbourhoods. Accordingly, the movement increasingly focused
upon racial discrimination in the North. In particular, black leaders, challenged residential
segregation, poor schooling, high unemployment among members of racial minorities, and
alleged police brutality. Given the heavy concentration of impoverished blacks in the innercity
areas, resolution of these problems proved extremely difficult. Indeed, civil rights gains
hardly affected the living conditions of many northern blacks. A wave of urban riots across
the North highlighted racial tensions and also served to alienate white opinion.
In addition, by promoting new remedies for discrimination, civil rights activists moved well
beyond the national consensus in favor of equality. The busing of pupils from one
neighbourhood to another in an effort to integrate schools, although endorsed by the
Supreme Court in 1971, threatened traditional neighbourhood schools and was opposed by
the vast majority of whites. Congress debated numerous proposals to restrict his practice. In
1974 the Supreme Court ruled against busing across school districts lines to archieve
integration between suburban areas and the inner city. Affirmative action policies in
employment and university admissions were widely perceived as favouritism to members of
minority groups. In 1978 the Supreme Court outlawed the use of quotas to aid racial
minorities in the university admissions process.
As a consequence of these trends during the 1970s the civil rights movement became
increasingly fragmented and isolated from the opinions of a majority of whites. Civil rights
supporters did win an extension of the Voting Rights Act in 1982.
Memphis establishes a park commission and develops plans for Overton and Riverside Parks.
The commission later buys the Montgomery Park racetrack as a permanent home for an
agricultural exposition - now the Mid-South Fair.
As Memphis entered the twentieth century it had survived wars and epidemics and gone
from a small river town to a bustling port city. The draining of the Delta in the final twenty
years of the nineteenth century created a huge lumbering industry; and when the land was
stripped bare, the even bigger business of massive cotton plantations was born.
Memphis became a wealthy capital of cotton and hardwood trading. But one thing hadn't
changed - the city's untamed frontier spirit. Gambling, drinking, prostitution, drugs; all
contributed to the wild times that filled every hour in a Memphis day, and demanded
intoxicating, even earthshaking musical accompaniment.
E.R. Johnson first used the His Masters Voice trade mark.
WATSON BUILDING (WEARABLE ART/GESTINE'S GALLERY)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1900 was built. Located at 154-
156 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee. In 1943 a plain brick wall with the inscription,
"Watson 1943", replaced the original neoclassical cornice at the top of the building. Perhaps
the original portion had deteriorated beyond repair, but it is more probably that the new
owners, dentists Isaac A. Watson and William H. Young, were in the mood for remodelling
their recent acquisition. Dr. Watson had been a highly respected professional on Beale Street
since the mid-1920s. Along with Young, he occupied the second floor until the late 1960s.
Over the years, the first floor of both 154 and 156 Beale Street contained clothing, pawn,
shoe repair, restaurant, and photography business, and the Tyler Barber School.
MORRIS PINSTEIN (THIS IS IT)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1900, an women's furnishing was constructed. Located at
167-169 Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, although the facade of this building pales in
comparison to Schwab's, it still has great appeal in the arches covering the windows. Max
Rossett ran a dry goods store at this address from around 1900 to 1914. The Memphis
Tailoring Company occupied 167 Beale Street from 1916 until the mid-1920s.
But the longest
resident was Morris Pinstein who operated his women's shop and then dry goods store from
1929 to the end of the 1960s. Pinstein liked the location. Before moving in, he ran a
business in the Gallina Building for eighteen years. The second floor had several professional
offices, notably Dr. A.N. Kittrelle's medical clinic.
Booker T. Washington's "Up From Slavery".
Oil is discovered at Spindletop, near Beaumont,
Berliner and Johnson joined interests in the Victor Talking Machine Co. The original etched
plate method of reproduction was being replaced by recording on a thick wax blank. Bitter
litigation between rival companies alleging patent infringement almost destroyed the entire
The Dinwiddle Coloured Quartet record for Victor.
When the Memphis population topped one hundred thousand people, the Commercial Appeal
estimated that 80 percent of the city's black population, as well as "a considerable number
of whites" used cocaine. Even allowing for a touch of hysteria on the paper's part, cocaine
use was certainly epidemic. Legally sold in five- and ten-cent boxes in drugstores and
groceries, cocaine played an important role in the Memphis' nightlife, where, as Handy
wrote in "Beale Street Blues", business never closes till somebody gets killed.
Like the other Beale attractions, cocaine became a popular theme in the blues. The Memphis
Jug band recorded its "Cocaine Habit" in 1930, a song that immortalized one Beale Street
purveyor, Lehman's Drug Store: "I Went to Mr. Lehman's in a lope//sign on the window says
'No more dope'".
Memphis jazz pioneer William C. "Buster" Bailey is born in Memphis. Bailey took up clarinet
at thirteen, around the time he heard W.C. Handy's band play at the Clay Street School
behind his house. Like many young musicians, Bailey learned the new popular tunes by
buying magazines such as Etude, which provided arrangements of waltzes, mazurkas,
ragtime songs, and light classic. Bailey became fascinated with the new sound coming from
New Orleans, and in late 1917 the young clarinet virtuoso travelled down to the Crescent
City on a vacation that changed his life. Bailey remains the unsung hero of Memphis jazz. In
many ways his career, which survived changing tastes and styles and lasted until his death in
1967. A well-schooled musician with superb technique and superior reading skills, Bailey
could also play the blues, improvise with the best of them, and swing like crazy.
Caruso had made his first of many records, and records by Dame Nellie Melba were released.
The popularity of the cylinder had begun to decline.
The first 12 inch diameter records were released on the Monarch label. HMV Italiana
released Verdi's Ernani on 40 single sided discs.
Edwin S. Porter's "The Great Train Robbery" made for Thomas Edison.
The auto industry begins; the Writht Brothers' first flight.
W.E.B. DuBois' wrote "The Souls Of Black Folk".
A man from Florence, Alabama had come to a similar realisation. He was W.C. Handy, the
black musician who composed and popularised the first copyrighted blues music. Handy put
Memphis on the map as far as the outside music world was concerned when he came with his
"Memphis Blues" in 1912.
Mississippi string bands much like the Mississippi Sheiks is credited by W.C. Handy with
inspiring his conversion to "our native music", turning him into "an American composer".
Handy and his conventional, well-schooled dance band were in the Delta town of Cleveland,
Mississippi, playing a program of light classic and popular tunes, when their white audience
asked if Handy would mind if "a local colored band played a few dances". Handy and
company happily took a break while a trio of mandolin, guitar, and "a worn-out bass... struck
up one of those over-and-over strains that seem to have no very clear beginning and
certainly no ending at all".
W.C. Handy sees a "ragged loose-jointed black" playing the guitar in a Tutwiler, Mississippi
railroad station. The unknown guitarist used a knife as a slide to play the guitar. Handy
remarked "The event was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly,
goin' where the southern cross the dog''.
BEALE AVENUE SALES STORE (STRANGE CARGO)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1903, was constructed over the Bayou
Gayoso which, resembled a watery serpent slithering across Beale Street and throughout the
Located at 170-172 Beale Street, Memphis Tennessee, before the construction of a
sanitary sewer system in 1880, the city used the Bayou as its principal drainage channel: the
equivalent of an open cesspool. many had associated it with the yellow fever epidemics of
Originally, a centrally located stairway to the second floor separated 170 and 172 Beale
Street; and the display windows stood out from each store front, flanking a recessed door.
The parapet at the upper portion of the building simulates a shallow stone awning.
The building's first occupants were Benjamin Moyer and Gustave Hecht, who operated a
phonograph parlor at 170 Beale Street; and the Bluff City Commission, a stocks, bonds, and
securities firm at 172 Beale Street. This later address contained mostly pawnshops, such as
that of Louis Brod. The Rosenblum family ran a tailor/clothing business at 170 Beale Street
from around 1909 to 1932. In fact, since 1910 most of the businesses at this street number
were clothiers. In 1944 a men's clothing business, the Beale Avenue Sales Store, opened at
170 Beale Street and eventually took over the entire building.
Fleming invented the diode thermionic valve and, later, Lee de Forest the triode. Electrical
recording had become a possibility.
The first U.S. movie theater opens in Pittsburgh.
The Victor Company's Victrola model gramophone first appeared. Victrola was to become a
The first of many recorded versions of Bert Williams' "Nobody".
The Memphis Zoo opens in Overton Park.
The daylight hours saw Beale Street growing into a thriving center of black commerce,
boasting dentist offices, dry goods stores, and, most notably, Church's Solvent Saving Bank
and Trust, opened. Black millionaire, Robert Reed Church lived nearby in an integrated
neighbourhood at 384 South Lauderdale. His next-door neighbour was Memphis' white
postmaster, Robert B. Armour; across the street lived one of the city's leading black music
teachers, Mrs. Julia Britton Hooks, whose two sons went on to run Beale Street's foremost
photographic studio, Hooks Brothers. Located at 162-164 Beale Street, for many years, it
was at Hooks Brothers that any self-respecting entertainer passing through Memphis had
promotional portraits taken - including the famous, recently rediscovered photo of Robert
Johnson in his razor-sharp pin-stripped suit and fedora.
As the new century dawned, Robert Church and the growing black professional class were
cementing their holdings, creating their own version of high society based to some degree
on the same color-caste system employed by New Orleans' light-skinned Creoles. Church and
his friends would hire Handy's well-schooled band for their dances aboard the Charles Organ
steamboat or at their exclusive Primrose Club and Toxoway Country Club. Meanwhile, the
less-privilege rural immigrants were enjoying the considerably earthier pleasure of Beale
JULIA ANN BRITTON HOOKS
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Freeborn, Berea College educated, she was one of the most
outstanding persons in civil rights efforts in Memphis. An accomplished musician, she offered
private lessons after moving to Memphis near the turn of the century and at one time
coached Handy on orchestration. Soon after Mayor Edward Hull Crump was elected in 1909,
she had marched into his office and demanded that a juvenile court be established for
blacks. Crump agreed, and she and her husband became the first officers of the court.
Julia Hooks later took her young son, Robert, to the Cossitt Library, trying to force the
opening of the city's only library to blacks. Turned back, she raised such as fuss that the
police were called to remove her from the building.
(Nearly a half-century later, in 1959,
her great-granddaughter, Carol Hooks, would be among the college students whose sit-ins
finally succeeded in the opening the Memphis libraries to black citizens. Among the
attorneys fighting the students' court battles was her grandson, Miss Hook's uncle, Benjamin
Hooks, later to become a member of the Federal Communications Commission and the
executive director of the NAACP).
Although Julia Hooks failed with the library, she succeeded in attending a major cultural
event at a white theater. Negroes were not permitted to see performances except from the
topmost balcony, but Julia Hooks persuaded a white friend to buy her a box seat. She seated
herself among the whites and, although the management tried to eject her, stood her ground
and finally was permitted to stay.
JUNE 26, 1906 TUESDAY
The Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, black branch is organized.
Around a year later, an injunction obtained by their white counterparts banned the group
from the entire state of Tennessee. The injunction was lifted in 1937, mainly due to the
efforts of Robert Church, Jr.
F.A. Barrasso, owner of the Palace Theater on Beale Street, Memphis, came up with the
notion of organizing his fellow theater owners around the South into a chain specializing in
black performers. The idea was based on what northern theaters had done with white
vaudeville on the famed Keith, Albee, and Orpheum circuits. Barrasso's chain would feature
black minstrel shows like Mahara's, Silas Green's, and the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, as well as
bands like Handy's.
The idea finally got of the ground in 1909, when Barasso's brother Anselmo began the
Theater Owner's Booking Association. The TOBA, with its hard working conditions, poor
wages, and filthy, overcrowded dressing rooms, was said by some performers on the circuit
to stand for Tough On Black Asses. Though the circuit was something of a plantation system
for black performers, many TOBA acts were able to step up to the better-paying white
vaudeville circuits. And the TOBA theaters at least offered steady work. The white circuits of
the time employed a quota system, allowing only one black act per show, several limiting
opportunities for African- American performers. For the theater owners the benefits were
even greater, giving them a better-organized, more dependable pool of talent.
- F.A. Barrasso founded the Theater Owner's Booking Association in 1909. A circuit for
black performers, TOBA eventually included more than forty theaters, among them the
Howard in Washington, the Apollo in New York, and the Regal in Chicago. The initials were
sometimes said to stand for "Tough on Black Asses" because of the low wages, poor working
conditions, and substandard dressing rooms, but TOBA offered work for black artists when
there otherwise might have been none.
Edison continued to persevere with the cylinder machine but the disc was proving ever
Saloon keeper "Wild Bill" Latura, walked into Hammitt Ashford's saloon and, annoyed at the
sound of the colliding billiard balls, killed six patrons. Latura was white, his victims black, so
naturally Latura was acquitted of the murders. The Commercial Appeal protested the
verdict, although with regrettable logic: "Those white men who kill Negroes", it reasoned,
"usually end up by killing white men". Latura never even went to court when he killed
another black Memphian in 1912, but in 1915, angered over a white reporter's reference to
him as "Wild Bill", he threatened the newsman and the Memphis policemen who were with
him. Finally Wild Bill had gone too far. As he turned to leave, the police fired, killing him
with five shots. Pool players on Beale breathed easier.
ELK'S CLUB (HOTEL MEN'S IMPROVEMENT CLUB)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- building demolished. 1908. Located at 401
Beale Street, the Improvement Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World, black
branch, was organised in Memphis on June 26, 1906. Around a year later, an injunction
obtained by their white counterparts banned the group from the entire State of Tennessee.
The injunction was lifted in 1937, mainly due to the efforts of Robert Church, Jr. In 1939
the Elks moved into 403 Beale Street and later changed to number 401.
The Elks were one of several black fraternal orders in the city. Some of the others included:
The Masons, Knights of Pythias, The Knights of Tabor, the Odd Fellows, the Hotel Men's
Improvement Club (for waiters), and the Chauffer's Club. All of these organizations were
civically and socially responsible. For example, the Elks donated great advertised meeting
rooms, dining, and dancing. Orchestras were frequently employed for proms and other social
gatherings. During the 1940s, the Elks sponsored talent contests which included gospel
groups, jug bands, dancers, and singers. Professional entertainers, such as B.B. King, Dwight
"Gatemouth" Moore, and Rufus Thomas, also performed there. Robert Henry, the owner of
Henry's Record Shop and Shine Parlor, took Elvis Presley to the Hotel Improvement Club.
Robert Henry claims that Elvis Presley saw Charlie Burse sing and shake on stage and
adopted this affectation in his own act. Robert Henry told Margaret McKee and Fred
Chisenhall that Elvis Presley "had a way of singing the blues that was distinctive". While
Henry didn't believe that Elvis Presley had the "Negro feel", nevertheless, Henry remarked
that blacks "were crazy about Elvis".
MUTUAL FURNITURE CO. (SILKY'S O'SULLIVAN)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1908, was constructed. Located at 183
Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee, originally, a one-story building. The new two-story
structure, built around 1908, had a warehouse behind it, long since removed. The main
building contained, at various times, the W.R. Roberts Hardware Company (1909-1913), the
Mutual Furniture Company (1915-1928), the Pantaza Drug Store Wholesale House (1929-
1946), and the Golden Rule 5 cents and 10 cents to $1 Store (1947-1959).
The name "Mutual
Furniture" can still be seen just below the attic vents. To the left and right of the single
entrance were large display windows capped by five large vent windows.
W.C. Handy settles in Memphis, Tennessee. Handy is lured not only by the rich heritage of
Memphis blues, but finds the social atmosphere an integrated one. To Handy and other
blacks, Memphis is a symbol of escape from the grinding rural poverty enslaving Southern
blacks. Soon Handy's "St. Louis Blues" becomes a national hit. Through his interpretation of
the blues, W.C. Handy, a trained band musician, helps to popularize this musical form,
incorporating folk blues into his ragtime songs.
E.H. Crump is elected mayor on a reform ticket; in and out of office, he will control Memphis
politics for more than 40 years.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded.
EDWARD HULL CRUMP
(See: Historic Memphis)
- (1874-1954) Born and raised in Holly Springs, Mississippi, Edward
Hull Crump moved to Memphis as a young man. His business efforts prospered, especially his
insurance firm, and Crump eventually built a sizable personal fortune.
almost from his arrival in Memphis, Crump was elected mayor in 1909, 1911, and 1915, but
his refusal to enforce Tennessee's prohibition law prompted the state to initiate legal
proceedings, which resulted in his resignation in 1916. Despite the setback, Crump
continued to build a political machine that, by the mid-1920s, utterly dominated the large
Shelby County vote.
In 1932 the Crump-backed candidate for governor won election, and for the next 16 years
the Memphis boss and his organization influenced the outcome of most major statewide
races. Finally, in 1948, insurgents led by Estes Kefauver and Gordon Browning defeated the
Crump choices for senator and governor in the Democratic primary. His power across
Tennessee substantially weakened, Crump still controlled Memphis politics until his death in
1954. Edward Hull Crump is buried at Elmwood Cemetery at 824 South Dudley in Memphis,
A self-described progressive, Crump stressed efficient government and improved public
services, policies that generally kept him in good stead with respectable Memphis business
leaders, as did his bitter opposition to unions. At the same time, however, the Crump
machine was closely linked to the Bluff City's seamy vice trade, a prime source of money and
votes for organization candidates. The Crump machine also included the local black
community, tied to the boss by his special blend of patronage and coercion. Consequently,
Memphis was one of the few places in the South that tolerated black voting during the
segregation era. W.C. Handy celebrated Crump in his "Memphis Blues" (1912), a catchy tune
that the mayor then used to gain black and white votes. "Mister Crump don't 'low no easy
riders here", it said. Crump delighted in conducting well-publicized charity drives to benefit
various causes, but he dealt harshly with potential opponents. City bureaucrats and
policemen harassed his critics, while curious reporters and persistent labour organizers
occasionally encountered strong-arm tactics.
Although many Crump policies and practices were generally typical of machine politics in
other parts of the country, Crump himself struck the pose of the paternalistic southern
gentleman. Dapper and flamboyant, he was an unusually visible political boss who often
castigated his enemies in splashy newspaper advertisements. A uniquely skilful politician,
Crump wielded more power outside his own city than any other urban boss in the South.
The National Urban League is founded and organized.
National Association For The Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) is founded by W.E.B.
DuBois and seven whites in response to the lynching of two black men in Springfield, Illinois.
- (1868-1963) Historian, sociologist, editor, and novelist. William Edward
Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Mass. A New
Englander in though and conduct, as he put it, he entered the South in 1885, after a
promising high school career, to attend Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee. He found the
South deeply humiliating. "No one but a Negro", he wrote, "going into the South without
previous experience of color caste can have any conception of its barbarism".
Nevertheless, Fisk itself was challenging, even exhilarating, and summer teaching in rural
counties sealed his attachment to the black masses and his determination to champion their
cause. Graduating in 1888, he trained further at Harvard University (Ph. D. 1895) and the
University of Berlin. His doctoral dissertation on the suppression of the slave trade was
published in 1896. He held positions briefly with the University of Pennsylvania and
Wilberforce in Ohio before returning to the South in 1897 to teach sociology, economics, and
history at Atlanta University.
His third book, The Souls Of Black Folk (1903), was a collection of hauntingly beautiful
essays on every important aspect of black culture in the South; perhaps its most famous
insight concerned the "Double-Consciousness" of the black American. "One ever feels his
twoness - and American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two
warrings ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn
asunder". With this book he secured preeminence among all African-American intellectuals
and became the leader of those opposed to the powerful and conservative Booker T.
Washington of Tuskegee. His yearly (1897-1914) Atlanta University Studies of black social
conditions and a biography of John Brown (1909) added to his reputation.
Increasingly controversial, he moved to New York in 1910 to found and edit The Crisis, the
monthly magazine of the fledgling NAACP. For 24 years he sustained an assault on all forms
of racial injustice, especially in the South. In 1934 he published Black Reconstruction In
America, a grand Marxist-framed reevaluation of the much-maligned role of blacks in the
Civil War and its aftermath. That year he returned to Atlanta University after grave
disagreements with the NAACP leadership over strategies during the Depression; Du Bois
favored a program of voluntary self-segregation stressing economics that many people found
similar to the old program of Booker T. Washington. At Atlanta University he found little
support for his projected scheme to organize the study of sociology among black colleges
and other institutions in the South. In 1944 he rejoined the NAACP in New York, but soon
found himself again at odds with the leadership, this time over his growing interest in radical
socialism. He left the NAACP finally in 1948. By this time his attitude toward the South had
changed somewhat. Influenced no doubt by the aims of the leftist Southern Negro Youth
Congress, he declared in 1948 that "the future of American Negroes is in the South... Here is
the magnificent climate; here is the fruitful earth under the beauty of the southern sun; and
here... is the need of the thinker, the worker, and the dreamer". His Socialist activities
culminated in his arrest and trial in 1951 as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal; the
presiding judge heard the evidence, then directed his acquittal.
Unpopular and even shunned in some quarters, he turned to fiction to express his deepest
feelings. In a trilogy set mainly in the South, The Black Flame (The Ordeal of Mansart), 1957;
Mansart Builds a School, 1959; Worlds of Colore, 1961, he told the story of a black
southerner, born at the end of Reconstruction, who rises slowly and patiently to the
leadership of a small southern school, witnessing in his long lifetime the important events of
modern American and world history. In October 1961 Du Bois was admitted to membership in
the Communist party of the United States; that month he left his country to live in Ghana at
the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah. In February 1963 he renounced his American citizenship
and became a Ghanaian. He had made little progress on the task for which Nkrumah had
summoned him, the editing of an "Encyclopedia Africana", when he died of natural causes on
August 27, 1963.
BOOKER T. WASHINTON
- (April 5, 1856 - November 14, 1915) Black Educator. Booker
Taliaferro Washington was the foremost black educator of the late 19th and early 20th
centuries. He also had a major influence on southern race relations and was the dominant
figure in black public affairs from 1895 until his death in 1915.
Born a slave on a small farm
in the Virginia backcountry, he moved with his family after emancipation to work in the salt
furnaces and coal mines of West Virginia. After a secondary education at Hampton Institute,
he taught an upgraded school and experimented briefly with the study of law and the
ministry, but a teaching position at Hampton decided his future career. In 1881 he founded
Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute on the Hampton model in the Black Belt of Alabama.
Though Washington offered little that was innovative in industrial education, which both
northern philanthropic foundations and southern leaders were already promoting, he
became its chief black exemplar and spokesman. In his advocacy of Tuskegee Institute and
its educational method, Washington revealed the political adroitness and accommodationist
philosophy that were to characterize his career in the wider arena of race leadership. He
convinced southern white employers and governors that Tuskegee offered an education that
would keep blacks "down on the farm" and in the trades. To prospective northern donors and
particularly the new self-made millionaires such as Rockefeller and Carnegie he promised
the inculcation of the Protestant work ethic. To blacks living within the limited horizons of
the post-Reconstruction South, Washington held out industrial education as the means of
escape from the web of sharecropping and debt and the achievement of attainable, petitbourgeois
goals of self-employment, landownership, and small business. Washington
cultivated local white approval and secured a small state appropriation, but it was northern
donations that made Tuskegee Institute by 1900 the best-supported black educational
institution in the country.
The Atlanta Compromise Address, delivered before the Cotton States Exposition in 1895,
enlarged Washington's influence into the arena of race relations and black leadership.
Washington offered black acquiescence in disfranchisement and social segregation if whites
would encourage black progress in economic and educational opportunity. Hailed as a sage
by whites of both sections, Washington further consolidated his influence by his widely read
autobiography Up From Slavery (1901), the founding of the National Negro Business League
in 1900, his celebrated dinner at the White House in 1901, and control of patronage politics
as chief black advisor to President Theadore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft.
Washington kept his white following by conservative policies and moderate utterances, but
he faced growing black and white liberal opposition in the Niagara Movement (1905-1909)
and the NAACP (1909), groups demanding civil rights and encouraging protest in response to
white aggressions such as lynchings, disfranchisement, and segregation laws. Washington
successfully fended off these critics, often by underhanded means. At the same time,
however, he tried to translate his own personal success into black advancement through
secret sponsorship of civil rights suits, serving on the boards of Fisk and Howard universities,
and directing philanthropic aid to these and other black colleges. His speaking tours and
private persuasion tried to equalize public educational opportunities and to reduce racial
violence. These efforts were generally unsuccessful, and the year of Washington's death
marked the beginning of the Great Migration from the rural South to the urban North.
Washington's racial philosophy, pragmatically adjusted to the limiting conditions of his own
era, did not survive the change.
Despite his travels and widespread work, Washington remained as principal of Tuskegee.
Washington's health was deteriorating rapidly; he collapsed in New York City and was
brought home to Tuskegee, where he died on November 14, 1915, at the age of 59. He was
buried on the campus of Tuskegee University near the University Chapel.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL
(See: Historic Memphis)
– Also known as (BTW) is located at 715 South
Lauderdale, Memphis, Tennessee, is a public secondary school and could this be the most
musical high school in America. Graduates include Phineas Newborn, Calvin Newborn,
Johnny "Ace" Alexander, David Porter, Andrew Love of the Memphis Horns, Maurice White
(founder of Earth, Wind, and Fire), and Booker T. Jones and Al Jackson Jr. of Booker T & the
Part of the Memphis City Schools, it serves grades 9-12. The school gained national attention
when U.S. President Barack Obama delivered the school's 2011 commencement address as a
reward for winning the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge.
The school was originally founded as the Clay Street School in 1873 and was among the first
public high schools for African Americans in Memphis. It was renamed Kortrecht High School
in 1891. In 1926 a new building was constructed and the school was renamed in honor of
American educator and civil rights leader Booker T. Washington. Further expansions were
completed in the years since, including the Blair T. Hunt Gymnasium, dedicated in 1950. The
school entered and won the 2011 Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, a competition
that "invites public high schools across the country to demonstrate how their school best
prepares (students) for college and a career''. Among the required application materials
were student essays and videos that demonstrated the school's innovation in education. The
accomplishments of the school included increasing graduation rates from 55% in 2007 to 82%
in 2010 through the use of same-gender freshman classrooms and increased teacher
effectiveness. BTW also suffered from and overcame high teen pregnancy and HIV/AIDS
rates. The school beat out more than 450 other applicant schools, and as a reward for this
achievement, President Barack Obama delivered the school's 2011 commencement speech.
African-American George Washington Lee first visited Memphis on a weekend holiday, riding
into the city on the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railway. Lee, who went on to become one of
Memphis' leading black writers and political powers, was impressed by the city, which by
then boasted two fifteen-story skyscrapers. When he returned in 1912 to settle in Memphis,
the skyline was dominated by the Exchange Building at Second and Madison, nineteen stories
tall, while across the street stood the eighteen-story Central Bank and Trust Company.
Leroy "Lasses" White's "Nigger Blues", Hart Wand and Lloyd Garrett's "Dallas Blues", and
W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" all are published within a few months of one another. But in a
sense, the first published "blues" was Nat D. Ayer and Seymour Brown's "Oh, You Beautiful
Doll", a pop hit of 1911 whose opening verse had made knowing use of twelve-bar from. As
Handy was laying the seeds of the jazz and blues legend in Memphis, a young pianist named
Bob Miller was gaining his first jobs on Mississippi River steamboats. Working on the
"Idlewild" and taking in the sounds and sights of river city life - a fusion of danceband jazz,
folk and hillbilly tunes - Bob Miller was inspired to develop a successful pop-country
songwriting career. He had his songs published in Memphis as early as 1923.
James Reese Europe, the music director for Vernon and Irene Castle, leads his Clef Club
Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
The Titanic sinks.
The Mississippi River floods vast areas of Memphis and eastern Arkansas.
First black millionaire, Robert Reed Church died in Memphis, Tennessee.
After his fathers' death, Robert R. Church Jr. becomes the major political and business
leader in black Memphis and the foremost black adviser to national politicians.
The first students enrolls at West Tennessee State Normal School (predecessor to the
University of Memphis).
Woody Gythrie, who was born in 1912, was the original working-class singer songwriter. He
wrote thousands of songs, many of which stand as some of the most important created in
America during the thirties and forties.
The first appearance of the word ''blues'' in a piece of music: "The Dallas Blues" by Hart
Wand. The story goes that a black porter overheard Hart playing his violin and the porter
remarked "That give me the blues to go back to Dallas''.
W.C. Handy's music company published a song called "Jogo Blues", which had been written,
or at least performed by a local piano player. The piece was not a commercial success, but a
year later Handy added two more strains to it and published it as "St. Louis Blues". It was this
composition that brought the blues its first large audience. "St. Louis Blues" was significant
not only because it was a major success, but because, as Handy published it, the first strain,
the "Jogo Blues" melody, used the classic blues pattern, both in text and musical form.
JANUARY 13, 1913 MONDAY
Orbie Lee Orbison, Roy Orbison's father, is born in Olustee, Oklahoma. His twin brother Orby
dies at birth.
(See: Historic Memphis)
– Built in 1913 and located at 272 South Main Street, Memphis, across Beale Street, Sam Phillips delivered demos to key Memphis disc jockey’s: including Dewey Phillips at WHBQ radio. In 1954, the Chisca Hotel was home to radio station WHBQ and disc jockey Dewey Phillips' program "Red Hot And Blue". Phillips often played new releases from friend and business associate Sam Phillips' record label, Sun Records. On July 7, 1954, Dewey Phillips played SUN 209 over the airways, making him one of the first disc jockey’s to spin a professionally recorded Elvis Presley toward stardom. He was so impressed with Elvis Presley's sound that he played "That's All Right" and the flip side, "Blue Moon Of Kentucky", repeatedly throughout his show.
The response to Elvis Presley was overwhelmingly positive. Dewey Phillips wanted Elvis Presley to come in that night for his first radio interview. Sam Phillips called the Presley's at their Alabama Street apartment, but Elvis Presley was no where to be found.
Vernon Presley hunted him down, finding him hiding at the movie theater, Suzore II at 279 North Main Street, because he was too afraid to listen to himself on WHBQ radio. That night Elvis Presley went to the Chisca Hotel where he was interviewed by Dewey Phillips. During the interview Phillips asked Elvis Presley which high school he attended.
The racial climate at the time was so tense, and Elvis' sound so different from that of other white artists, that his racial background was unclear. Elvis Presley's response of "Humes High School, sir", affirmed to listeners that he was white.
Today, the stately Chisca Hotel still stands at the southwest corner of Main Street and Linden Avenue, and used as the headquarters of a church with the name "Church Of God In Christ", and is not open to the public.
On October 2012, the property appears to be on the verge of being saved. The private group has closed on the real estate contract purchasing the Hotel Chiska. It is expected renovation activity may begin during the summer of 2013.
On August 7, 2012, the Memphis City Council voted to conditionally provide $3-million toward the restoration of Hotel Chisca. An investment group reportedly now will proceed with the purchase. Thew group still must provide/obtain private funding for the purchase and millions in restoration costs.
W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" published. W.C. Handy wrote and conducted the song on the
rooftop from the Falls Building at 22 North Front Street in Memphis.
Borrowing an idea from the meatpacking industry, Henry Ford introduces the assembly line
to speed production and lowers the selling price of the Model-T (introduced six years
A.S.C.A.P. (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) founded by copyright
attorney Nathan Burkan.
JULY 25, 1914 SATURDAY
Nadine Schultz, Roy Orbison's mother, is born in Wise County, Texas.
Scott Joplin's opera "Treemonisha" is staged in New York.
D.W. Griffith's "The Birth Of A Nation" based on Thomas Dixon's novel "The Klansman" (also
the source for a long-running play), revolutionizes motion pictures and triggers both NAACP
boycotts and the revitalization of the Ku Klux Klan (this time a national, rather than an
exclusively Southern, organization, as antagonistic toward Jewish and Catholic immigrants as
Bert Williams joins the Ziegfeld follies.
The Chicago Automatic Machine and Tool Company invents the jukebox that plays records
(as opposed to the cylinder recordings type of player that had been around since 1889).
The Chicago Automatic Machine & Tool Company invents the jukebox.
JUNE 9, 1915 WEDNESDAY
Les Paul was born. Lester William Polsfuss, known as Les Paul, was an American jazz and
country guitarist, songwriter and inventor. He was a pioneer in the development of the solidbody
electric guitar which made the sound of rock and roll possible. He is credited with
many recording innovations.
Although he was not the first to use the technique, his early
experiments with overdubbing (also known as sound on sound), delay effects such as tape
delay, phasing effects and multi track recording were among the first to attract widespread
His innovative talents extended into his playing style, including licks, trills, chording
sequences, fretting techniques and timing, which set him apart from his contemporaries and
inspired many guitarists of the present day. He recorded with his wife Mary Ford in the
1950s, and they sold millions of records.
Among his many honors, Paul is one of a handful of artists with a permanent, stand-alone
exhibit in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is prominently named by the music museum on
its website as an "architect" and a "key inductee" along with Sam Phillips and Alan Freed.
On August 12, 2009, Paul died of complications from pneumonia at White Plains Hospital in
White Plains, New York. His family and friends were by his side.
BROOKS MEMORIAL ART GALLERY
(See: Historic Memphis)
- (Now Memphis Brooks Museum of Art) is an art museum in
Memphis, Tennessee. The Brooks Museum, which was founded in 1916, is the oldest and
largest art museum in the state of Tennessee. The museum is a privately funded nonprofit
institution located in Overton Park in Midtown Memphis.
The original Beaux-Arts building, a registered U.S. National Landmark designed by James
Gamble Rogers in 1913, was donated by Bessie Vance Brooks in memory of her husband,
Samuel Hamilton Brooks.
The cylindrical extension, opened in 1955, was designed by
Memphis architect Everett Woods. The Brooks’ facilities also include the Brooks Museum
Store, the Brushmark Restaurant, the Holly Court Garden, and a grand terrace that overlooks
the greens and trees of Overton Park. In 1989, the building was expanded and reoriented by
Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. The expansion, which doubled the square footage of the
existing building, included a new public entrance as well as a three-story gallery space
where the old and new buildings join.
The facility consists of 29 galleries, art classrooms, a print study room with over 4,500 works
of art on paper, a research library with over 5,000 volumes, and an auditorium. The
collection has over seven thousand works of art, including paintings, sculptures, drawings,
prints, photographs, and examples of the decorative arts. Of particular note are the Samuel
H. Kress Collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, the Hugo N. Dixon Collection of
Impressionist paintings, the Levy Collection of American prints, the Goodman Book
Collection, and the Goodheart Collection of Carl Gutherz paintings, drawings, and archival
SEPTEMBER 6, 1916 WEDNESDAY
Clarence Saunders opens his first Piggly Wiggly store on 79 Jefferson Avenue in Memphis, the
world's first self-service grocery; within a few years there are 2,600 stores nationwide. After
Saunders loses his fortune, the city converts his mansion on Central Avenue into the
Memphis Pink Palace Museum, a museum that is the site of the city's only 1-MAX giant-screen
movie theater, and Planetarium. Though not a musician, Saunders symbolized that same
Memphis maverick spirit seen in the careers of W.C. Handy and Pace and later in Sam
Phillips' Sun Records, Jim Steward and Estelle Axton's Stax label, Kemmons Wilson's Holiday
Inns, Fred Smith's Federal Express, and Isaac Tigret's Hard Rock Cafes and House of Blues
In 1923, Saunders lost control of Piggly Wiggly in the mercurial stock market of the day. He
continued in the grocery business with the less artfully named "Clarence Saunders Sole
Owner of My Name" stores, a grocery chain that folded in 1933. Saunders died on December
14, 1953. His legacy continues today in Piggly Wigglys all over the South, as well as in his
PIGGLY WIGGLY (CAPITAL LOANS) (BLUES CITY CAFE)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Possibly 1890s, located at 138 Beale
Street, Memphis, Tennessee, this building may have been built during the 1890s but was
significantly altered, perhaps around 1925. In the early 1890s, the first of several
proprietors operated saloons at this location until the late 1910s. One of them, Michael
Dicicco, also owned a grocery store and became a partner in the National Sales and
Exchange Company which dealt in real estate, merchandise, and even stocks.
In 1927 the Piggly Wiggly grocery chain moved in, followed by the Boro Sandwich Shop in
1934. The Boro family had owned the property as early as 1854. By 1940 the store became a
pawn shop, with Capital Loans being the final proprietor in the early 1950s.
The first jazz record was issued in the U.S. when Nick LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jazz
Band released "The Dixieland Jazz Band One-Step''.
The Bolshevik Revolution.
The United States enters World War I.
The Chicago Defender announces its "Great Northern Drive", urging blacks to flee the South -
an exodus that is already under way.
Birdseye begins to experiment with frozen food, a process not perfected until 1949.
A winter storms paralyses the Memphis region; the Mississippi River freezes over when
temperatures drop far below zero.
Harahan Bridge, the second railroad span over the Mississippi in Memphis, opens roadways
for automobile traffic are added later.
The first jazz releases on cylinder helped to delay the final demise of this format. Leopold
Stokowski, with the Philadelphia Orchestra, began recording for the Victor Company at the
Camden, New Jersey studios.
MARCH 26, 1917 MONDAY
Rufus Thomas is born and was always quick to make sure that you knew he was a city man
first and foremost. In one of his earliest in-depth interviews he told Peter Guralnick, "I was
born in Mississippi just below Collierville, about five miles from the Tennessee line in a little
place called Cayce: its not on anybody's map. That was March 26 1917, (though his social
security records say March 27), but I grew up in Memphis. I been here since I was a year old.
I don't know anything about country life, to tell you the truth''.
Rufus Jr. was the youngest child of Rufus and Rachel Thomas, coming up behind his sisters
Elizabeth, Willie, Eva, and Dorothy and his brother Morris. He did admit that he mould
sometimes go with his mother to visit relatives in the country and that he even picket a
little cotton there as a teenager. ''But that was not a life I wanted to know'', he told forcely
some seventy years later. "No, I was always a city boy, there was always something going, on
there for me to take an interest in. My father worked in several different production plants
around Memphis and my mother worked in domestic, but they both had other interests. My
father was musical, where I got that side from, and my mother was a church woman''. He
told Peter Guralnick his mother had, "what we call mother wit, that deep seated intelligence
that you don't get out of books. That was how I came up''.
Taking his parents' music and wit as inspiration, Rufus soon emerged as someone to
remember from the crowd. His father played harmonica and did a little country dancing, and
it was the latter that appealed to Rufus. He made his performing debut on stage at the Grand
Theater on Beale Street in an elementary school play - hopping on stage like a frog. By the
age of ten, he was struck by the tap-dancing ability of a schoolmate, Edward Martin, and he
soon started copying and then surpassing his friend. He told researcher Rob Bowman: "I don't
know where the drive came from. All I know is that I wanted to be a tap dancer. So I
continued to work, at it, mixing what I had seen with some steps of my own. During those
days there was no such thing as dancing schools for blacks''.
In the ninth grade, Rufus moved to Booker T. Washington High School, and he told about his
meeting with his mentor, Nat D. Williams: "He was a professor, history teacher, at High
School there, and I was involved with him in one thing or another since the first of the
1930s. After he was my teacher in school, he was my teacher on the stage and later on he
was my teacher in radio. He was the first black disc jockey in the mid-South and the emcee
at the amateur shows on Beale Street in the Palace Theater. Nat Williams was an unusual
man, and a good mentor for the young Rufus. Williams had been to University in Nashville at
Tennessee A&I and had worked in New York before he returned to Memphis to teach at
Booker T. Washington. There he became involved with Maurice Hulbert in producing a high
school show known as the BTW Ballet - it had started out in the 1920s as a highbrow
performance put on to raise money for the newly-formed black high school, and did literally
put on ballet performances.
Within a few years the Ballet had broadened its range, with song and tap dance and comedy,
and Williams decided he could accommodate Rufus's homegrown dancing talent. Rufus told
John Floyd that this ''was when things really began happening for me. I had learned the
craft, and the first rehearsal at school Nat D. said to me, What's your name, you want to be
in the Ballet?' and I said 'yeah'. He said let me see your smile, so I had a funny little grin on
my face. and he said, 'you got it. I was put into the musical vaudeville shows, which was a
minstrel show''. Rufus later reflected with disc jockey and writer, Louis Cantor, on the
difference in his black version of the vaudeville minstrel shows, where he appeared
complete with burnt cork on the face and painted lips. ''With folks would put on white put
on red lips to protest. or at least I like to think it was to protest'', he rationalized.
Nevertheless Rufus remained proud of the Ballets. which by his day had moved from the
school premises into the Palace Theater and then to the Ellis Auditorium downtown. He
joked ''the old Ballet was sophisticated and pretty. We had no sophistication and we were
ugly but we had some kinda show''.
Rufus was soon voted the most talented youngster in his school. He told John Floyd: ''I used
to wear the big pants and the big shoes, and the big tie that would hang almost to the floor. I
was hot stuff I was so sharp I could stick up in concrete''. On account of being such a
'character' Nat Williams chose Rufus to help him with comedy routines. ''He chose me out of
a bunch of kids to work with him. Nat was the straight man and I was the comic''.
DAISY THEATER (BEALE STREET BLUES MUSEUM)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1917, Sam Zerilla, an Italian immigrant and
a clarinetist with John Philip Sousa's band, built the Pastime Theater, the first movie house
for blacks in Memphis. Sam also built the Daisy Theater, located at 329-331 Beale Street,
which showed mostly films. In 1929 it premiered the short, St. Louis Blues, which starred
the great blues singer Bessie Smith.
Smith, dressed in fancy furs, drove up in a limousine with W.C. Handy. In a scene more
reminiscent of Hollywood, they stepped from their car onto a red carpet which took them
past an enthusiastic crowd into the theater. The facade is Moorish in character with a ribbed
interior some which stretches upward toward a one-half circle of lights. Originally, each side
of the building contained small stores, one a candy shop and the other a shoe shine parlor.
The interior still has the original balcony and wall embellishments. Patrons entered the
theater on either side of the stage which faced the rear.
The Beale Street Blues Museum, this museum does a reasonable, if detached, job of telling
the street's music history. There are plenty of obscure photos, vintage posters, and personal
belongings, along with displays on Ethel waters, Victoria Spivey, and other often-overlooked
female blues singers.
Influenza epidemic kills 500,000 in United States, over 21 million people
The underside of the migration; bloody race riots in a number of Northern cities, including
Commercial air travel begins.
Brunswick was founded and acquired Vocalion in 1924. In 1927 Vocalion started a 5000
Country series and Brunswick a 100 Country series. After being acquired by Warner Brothers
created the Melotone label in 1930 and was bought out by ARC. Both the Brunswick and
Vocalion labels ended in February 1933.
Electrical recording was in the experimental stage.
Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra produced the first million seller with Japanese Sandman
coupled with Whispering and began a major new popular music craze that boosted the
record industry throughout the decade.
Garrard Engineering, a subsidiary of the British Crown jewellers, commenced manufacture of
precision clockwork gramophone motors.
LERNER BUILDING (THE BAND BOX: NO. 144 IS VACANT)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- ca. 1900, located at 142-144 Beale
Street is constructed. The date is actually the year the owner removed the third floor. The
building is named for Louis Lerner who purchased the property in 1919. Lerner also owned
174 Beale Street. At different times the building housed various commercial businesses,
including Joseph Safferstone's clothing store and Cohen's Loan Office.
A hotel, named Hotel Clark for most its existence, operated out of the second floor from
1925 until the 1960s. From the early 1930s until after World War II, it was a popular
stopover for visiting jazz musicians, such as Count Basie. Bands rehearsed in one of the
rooms which also hosted frequent after-hours jam sessions.
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Building demolished. Located at 324 Beale Street, on this site stood the
Palace Theater, the entertainment showcase for blacks in the mid-South. Built by Anselmo
Barrasso with Lorenzo and Angelo Pacini, the Palace was the only Memphis theater which
became a member of the Theater Owners and Bookers Association (T.O.B.A.), a circuit of
theaters which catered to black audiences. The theaters were located in an area roughly
bounded by New York, Dallas, Chicago, and Pittsburgh.
In the 1920s, touring shows, such as Bessie Smith's "Steamboat Days" and Ma Rainey's
"Paramount Flappers", crisscrossed the country on the T.O.B.A. circuit.
vaudeville skits, these shows included blues singers, even opera singers, dancers,
acrobats, jugglers, comics, chorus girls, and an orchestra.
The Palace also showed films and had talent contests. Amateur night originated in the
twenties but its heyday was from the 1930s through the 1950s. It took place on Tuesdays
(later, on Wednesdays), and may have included anything from singers to tire-blowing
competitions. In the mid-1930s, Nat D. Williams, a teacher and historian, and Rufus
Thomas, a young Memphis entertainer, hosted amateur night. Williams, the master of
ceremonies, acted as the straight man to Thomas' tomfoolery. In the early 1940s, Rufus
Thomas took over Williams' role, while Robert "Bones" Couch became the clown. Couch
dressed himself in baggy pants, big enough to fit three men, a funny tie and hat, and a
long coat which nearly reached the floor on his small four-foot eleven-inch frame.
Winners were selected by the volume of audience approval and received either cash,
groceries, or a combination of groceries and cash prizes. Later, anyone who appeared on
stage received one dollar. Limp performances were suffocated by an outpouring of boos,
catcalls, and the stomping of feet. In the 1930s, Angelo Pacini, in his role as the "Lord High
Executioner", added the finishing tough by shooting the act with his pearl-handled
revolver loaded with blanks. "Bones" had a different method.
To escort the act off, he may
have swung onto the stage by means of a rope, screaming like Tarzan, or come out with a
long hook, or beating on a parade drum. Some of the show's winners became big stars, like
B.B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Al Hibbler, Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Isaac Hayes, Rufus
Thomas, and the white Elvis Presley.
A Midnight Ramble took place on Thursday nights for white audiences. Sometimes the
attraction was a name jazz orchestra, such as Duke Ellington or Count Basie. At other
times, touring road shows, like The Brown Skin Models, managed by Irwin C. Miller was a
vaudeville show consisting of thirty-five entertainers, put on entertainment strictly for
adults which featured off-colour jokes and scantily-clad chorus girls. The organization's
home base was New York City, although several chorus girls and musicians were from
LOEW'S STATE THEATER
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Memphis movie theater opened in 1925, and located at 152 South
Main Street, where, in 1950, Elvis Presley worked as an usher at $12.75 a week, at the
theater on two separate occasions, beginning in November 1950. A sophomore in high school
at the time, Elvis would arrive home after 5:00 to 10:00 on school nights. After a few
months, his mother asked him to quit because his grades were slipping. When school let out
the following summer, Elvis was hired again.
On December 4, 1956, on the day of the Million Dollar Quartet at Sun Records, the movie
"Love Me Tender" was being shown at Loew's State Theater.
On October 17, 1957 Elvis Presley allowed his third MGM movie, "Jailhouse Rock", to
premiere in that same theater. Arthur Groom, still the manager, had a good sense of humour
about this incredible change of fortune. Three weeks before the premier, Arthur posed with
Elvis and an usher's uniform - presumably the same uniform that Elvis Presley had worn -
and told his story for the newspapers. Elvis was welcome to return to his job anytime,
Groom said. With a grin Elvis replied, "Sir, I don't believe I'm ready to go back to my old job
yet". Even Mrs. Groom could not resist teasing her husband. "Well, all I can say, Arthur
Groom, is that you'll work a long while before we own a car as tremendous as that one Elvis
has out there", she chided.
Built in 1920 for founder and manager Arthur Groom, no expense was spared in its
construction, and it was designed as an opulent retreat from everyday life. One could enter
the ornate lobby - decorated with grand columns, gold plating, and chandeliers - and
experience a grandeur normally reserved for the upper class. In the 1930s, the theater
became one of the first air-conditioned buildings in Memphis. The late comedian Freddie
Prize was himself an usher at New York City's Loew's State Theater (it no longer exists).
Other celebrities who have been employed as ushers: Frances Farmer, Carol Burnett (who
was fired), Sylvester Stallone (who was fired), Linda Evans, and Johnny Carson.
This neglected part of downtown is now being transformed
into the Peabody Place office and shopping development. The Loew’s State Theatre closed in
October 1970, and it was demolished in 1971/1972.
Mamie Smith records "Crazy Blues", the first of the Race Records. Race Records, was the
term used by recording companies at the time for recordings of black artists with the target
audience of black Americans.
Women get the vote.
Westinghouse initiates commercial radio broadcast.
During the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan boasted 4 million members, most of them in the South,
though the Midwest remained a racist hotbed. In Richmond, Indiana, the Gennett record
label kept itself afloat in the twenties alternating recordings by some of the day's best black
jazz and blues musicians with sessions by local Klansmen.
Radio and the record industry were the commercial forces that began the country music
“revolution” in the 1920s. One of the first radio stations to feature the emerging music was
WSB in Atlanta, which began broadcasting March 16, 1922. Much of the programming on
early country stations centered on live performances. There were no DJs and Country Top
40 back then.
Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance (later called the National Barn Dance) began in 1924.
The Grand Ole Opry, a Nashville offshoot, started broadcasting in 1925. Country musicians
would travel to play at dances, fairs and fiddle contests and promote their performances on
local radio shows that were popping up all over the South.
Radio dominated commercial Country Music during the depression, most people didn’t have
money for records but they could listen to the radio. Radio remained and still remains a vital
influence in Country music. When TV became popular in the early 1950s the radio era (1922-
1950) was essentially over.
Eubie Blake and Noble Sissie's "Shuffle Along".
International Harvester manufactures the first row tractor.
Owned by the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, the company began in 1916 and in
1922 began issuing some Country related records. The company also issued records on two
of their discount labels: Champion and Superior. The company issued records on the Sears
labels: Challenge, Conqueror, Silvertone, and Supertone.
Established in 1901, Victor was the wealthy and successful label. Country Music began in
1922 and following Dalhart’s smash hit “Wreck Of The Old 97” backed by “Prisoner’s Song”
hired Ralph Peer and signed important artists like Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.
Mons Remy of Belgium and Messieurs Dolon, Renaux and Debrabant, of France, together
applied for a French patent covering constant linear speed recording.
In England Noel Pemberton Billing independently developed a similar system, UK Patent
Pemberton Billing is also famous for founding the Supermarine Aircraft Company which made
the Schneider Trophy Winners and the Spitfire of World War II.
The words "rock" and "roll", which were black slang for sexual intercourse, appear on record
for the first time, Trixie Smith's "My Baby Rocks Me With One Steady Roll".
JANUARY 5, 1923 FRIDAY
Sam Cornelius Phillips born in Florence, Alabama, on January 5, 1923, the youngest of eight
children from a tenant farming family.
Bessie Smith recorded "Down Hearted Blues" and Ma Rainey recorded "Bo-Weavil Blues".
The Commercial Appeal's radio station WMC was broadcasting Bessie Smith live from the
Beale Palage Midnight Ramble in Memphis, Tennessee.
James P. Johnson's "Running Wild" initiates the Charleston craze.
The record business was becoming seriously depressed by the growing popularity of radio.
Portable recording systems were used on location in the early 1920s to wax records
featuring artists that probably would not travel to New York. The first Country recording
done on location was the 1923 Fiddlin’ John Carson session in Atlanta by Brockman and Peer
for Okeh. The famous 1927 Bristol Sessions were held in Bristol, Tennessee.
Tony Russell: “Between the summer of 1923 and the summer of 1927, the five major record
companies, Victor, Columbia, OKeh, Brunswick and Gennett, conducted forty-four recording
trips, visiting thirteen cities in eleven states: from Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas to St
Louis, Salt Lake City and Buffalo. These forty-four trips produced a total of 2,067 recordings.
Some were of country music, or, as it was often called at that period, ‘old-time music’; some
were of African-American or, as it was then labeled by the record companies, ‘race’ music,
predominantly blues, gospel and jazz; some were of jazz and other kinds of dance music by
white players; and some of standard popular songs. Certain locations offered regional
specialties: part of the reason why Gennett Records went to St Paul, Minnesota, in May 1927
was to record the fiddle and accordion music of Norwegian Americans in and around the
Of those 2,067 recordings, approximately 40 per cent are of old-time music. It is by some
degree the largest category. African-American blues, gospel and jazz account for 25 per
cent, and the remainder is a motley of popular songs, dance music by white bands, non-
Anglophone vernacular music and a small percentage of unidentified masters. That last
category may be deduced from numerical gaps in the record companies’ master lists, where
recordings were presumably made but damaged, lost or found to be technically inadequate;
at any rate, they were never issued. Some of those unrecoverable recordings must also have
been by performers of old-time music, so the final proportion of old-time music, in the total
of location recordings, must approach 50 per cent.”
Fiddlin' John Carson recorded, "The Little Old Cabin In The Lane", arguably the first white
rural (or "hillbilly") record for Okeh Records.
Bob Miller moves from Memphis to New York, Miller became known for tunes like "Eleven
Cent Cotton" and "Forty Cent Meat" and the wartime hillbilly favourite recorded by Elton
Britt and others, "There's A Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere". All this, of course,
told the world nothing about the real blues and hillbilly music of the mid-South. This would
only come to light, gradually, during the late 1920s when the large, northern recording
companies recognised a possible market for down to earth rural blues and folk music.
George Hay, columnist with the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper when the company
branched out into radio and opened WMC as Memphis' first radio station. Hay was drafted in
as one of the first announcers on the station. He would leave for Chicago the following year.
Had he not, it is just conceivable that the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville might eventually have
been spawned in Memphis rather than Nashville.
Commercial Appeal newspaper won a Pulitzer Price for its campaign against the Ku Klux
Klan, the Commercial Appeal was fighting a losing battle.
Owned by the General Phonograph Company, Okeh began recording Country Music in 1923
with Fiddlin’ John Carson. Okeh and A & R director Ralph Peer were instrumental in
initiating the Country Music craze in the early 1920s.
SEPTEMBER 17, 1923 MONDAY
Hiram King "Hank" Williams is born in Olive, Alabama. Hank Williams will become country
music's greatest icon and most (second) imitated performer.
Papa Charlie Jackson recorded "Papas Lawdy, Lawdy Blues".
George Gershwin writes "Rhapsody In Blue".
Columbia Country recordings were issued primarily on their 15000-D series started in 1924
directed by Frank Walker who recorded Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett. In November 1926
Columbia merged with Okeh. Columbia had several smaller labels that issued Country
recordings: Harmony,Velvet Tone, Clarion and Diva.
Owned by the Wisconsin Chari Company in 1917, Paramount began its Country 33000 series
in 1924. They also issued Country Music on the Broadway series.
The Vocalion company starts a series called "Special Records for Southern States" that will
issue "hillbilly" records.
FRED L. SCHWANTZ/SIGMUND FEDER (B.B. KING'S CLUB)
(See: Historic Memphis)
- 1924, crockery and clothing store
built, located at 139-145 Beale Street to an alteration in the street. As a result the building
which housed F.L. Schwantz and Company )grocers and dealers in cigars and tabacco) and S.
Fedres Brothers (clothing) were torn down. Both business had been at their original location
since 1896. However, they continued their enterprises in the new building.
out business in 1935, being replaced by the Dixie Liquor Store, while the Feder Brothers
continued at the same location until the early 1950s.
After construction of the new building, black physicians, dentists, lawyers, and insurance
and real estate agents, among others, had offices on the second floor. Beginning in 1944, the
second floor was referred to as the "Colored Business Exchange Building".
LORRAINE MOTEL (NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
(See: Historic Memphis)
– In Memphis, Tennessee, USA, is a
privately owned complex of museums and historic buildings built around the former Lorraine
Motel at 450 Mulberry Street, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4,
The complex is owned by the nonprofit Lorraine Civil Rights Museum Foundation. It is
located on the south edge of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee in what is now called the South
Main Arts District and is about six blocks east of the Mississippi River.
Major components of the complex on 4.14 acres include a museum which traces the history
of the Civil Rights Movement from the 17th century to the present, the Lorraine Motel and
hotel buildings as well as the Young and Morrow Building at 422 Main Street on the west side
of Mulberry up a small hill across the street from the motel which was the site where James
Earl Ray initially confessed (and later recanted) to shooting King from a second story
bathroom window as well as the Canipe’s Amusement Store at 418 Main Street next door to
the rooming house where the alleged murder weapon with Ray's fingerprints was found.
Included on the grounds is the brushy lot that stood between the rooming house and the
motel where a differing theory says the fatal shot came from a different weapon at ground
level in a conspiracy involving Loyd Jowers who operated Jim's Grill which opened onto the
Wide view shot of the Lorraine Hotel and the boarding house from where James Earl Ray was
alleged to have fired the fatal shots. Police say the shots were fired from the second floor
bathroom window (to the left of the pole). The first hotel on the site was the 16 room
Windsor Hotel built on the northern side of the complex around 1925 which was renamed
the Marquette Hotel. Walter Bailey purchased it in 1945 and renamed it for his wife Loree
and the song ''Sweet Lorraine''. During segregation it was an upscale accommodation that
catered to a black clientele. He added a second floor and then drive up access for more
rooms on the south side of the complex converting the name from Lorraine Hotel to Lorraine
Motel. Its guests included musicians going to Stax Records including Ray Charles, Lionel
Hampton, Aretha Franklin, Ethel Waters, Otis Redding, The Staple Singers and Wilson
Following the assassination of King, Bailey left Room 306 outside of which King was
assassinated and the adjoining room 307 unoccupied as a memorial to King. Bailey's wife
Loree, who suffered a stroke hours after the assassination, died five days later. He
converted the other motel rooms to single room occupancy.
Bailey worked with Chuck Scruggs, program director of WDIA and attorney D'Army Bailey, to
raise funds to "Save the Lorraine" in the newly formed Martin Luther King Memorial
Foundation and bought the motel on the Shelby County Courthouse steps for $144,000
following foreclosure in December 1982. It changed its name to Lorraine Civil Rights Museum
Foundation in 1984. The Lorraine closed as a motel on March 2, 1988 when sheriff's deputies
forcibly evicted the last holdout tenant, Jacqueline Smith, in preparation for an $8.8 million
Bailey died in July 1988. Smithsonian Institution curator Benjamin Lawless created a design
for saving historical aspects. The Nashville, Tennessee firm McKissack and McKissack, which
claims to be the oldest minority owned architect firm in the United States, was tapped to
design a modern museum on grounds of the motel that were not directly related to the
The museum was dedicated on July 4, 1991 and officially opened to the public on
September 28, 1991. In 1999 the Foundation acquired the Young and Morrow Building and its
associated vacant lot on a hill on the west side of Mulberry. A tunnel was built under the lot
connecting it with the motel. The Foundation became the custodian of the police and
evidence files associated with the assassination including the rifle and fatal bullet which are
on display in a 12,800 sq. foot exhibit in the building which opened September 28, 2002.
The Lorraine Motel had not only guests, but residents as well. The last resident of the motel,
Jacqueline Smith, had resided there since 1973 as part of her work for the motel as a
housekeeper. When faced with eviction for the museum project, Smith barricaded herself in
her room and had to be forcibly evicted.
The neighborhood surrounding the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominantly black
area. At the time, the area had run-down homes that rented for $175 a month. The homes
were demolished and later replaced with more expensive apartments and condominiums, as
part of the rejuvenation of the downtown area.
Smith stated that the Lorraine "should be
put to better uses, such as housing, job training, free college, clinic, or other services for
the poor...the area surrounding the Lorraine should be rejuvenated and made decent and
kept affordable, not gentrified with expensive condominiums that price the people out of
their community." She has also stated that Dr. King would not have wanted $9 million spent
on a building for him, and would not have wanted Lorraine Motel residents to be evicted.
Smith has maintained a vigil across the street from the Lorraine Motel for up to 21 hours per
day for over 20 years, regardless of weather. She still holds vigil outside the Lorraine,
although not as consistently as she has in the past.
The first electrical recordings were issued by Victor and Colombia in the US.
In March, Alfred Cortot electrically recorded works by Chopin and Schubert in Victor's
The first commercial electrical recording prompted all other major companies to follow suit.
In June Jack Hylton and his Orchestra used the technique to record Feelin Kind O Blue at the
HMV Studios at Hayes, Middlesex. HMV also released the first electrically recorded
Calvin Dixon becomes the first black preacher to record a sermon; he is quickly followed by
Blind Joe Taggart (the first of the "guitar evangelists") and the Reverends J.M. Gates, J.C.
Burnett, and A.W. Nix, among others.
Before 1925, recordings were made by the so-called "acoustic" method. The performers
played or sang into large horns and the vibrations were transmitted to a stylus, which cut on
to a master disc. The new electric systems featured microphones instead of the acoustic
horn. In 1924 Western Electric first offered to license its new electrical equipment to Victor.
Eldridge Johnson at first refused Western Electric, only to find his hand forced after
Columbia adopted the process. By late February 1925 Western Electric’s equipment was in
use in Victor's Camden, New Jersey, studio.
The term "hillbilly" is first used in commercial country music.
FEBRUARY 26, 1925 THURSDAY
On this day, Victor and Western Electric engineers oversaw the first electrical recording
session that would produce usable masters for Victor. For the occasion, eight performers
were summoned to Camden—vocalists Billy Murray, Henry Burr, Albert Campbell, John H.
Meyer, and Frank Croxton; comedian Monroe Silver; saxophonist Rudy Wiedoeft; and pianist
Frank Banta. The group recorded a “Miniature Concert” on two 12" masters, the contents
were noted on the Victor Recording Book sheet.
According to Paul Oliver, 750 sermons are recorded over the next 12 years.
Publication of the anthology "The New Negro", a touchstone of the Harlem Renaissance,
edited by Alain Locke; contributors include Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, and
Zora Neal Hurston. Includes essays on jazz and spirituals, though none on blues.
Development of the 35-millimeter camera makes it possible to shoot "candid" photographs in
natural light, without flashbulbs.
Just as recording companies realised during the 1920s that there was a market for real blues
and hillbilly music rather than the popularised versions first heard on cylinder and records,
so the fledging radio industry soon turned to folk artists to sell certain products over the air.
Country musicians, and bluesmen, were particularly in demand for shows sponsored by
agricultural product companies and the like. In the early days of radio, the 1920s, airtime
was much more limited to country musicians than became the case later on, particularly
during the 1940s and early 1950s. Back in the 1920s, hillbilly music was likely to be heard
mainly in a barn-dance format pioneered by stations such as WLS in Chicago and WSM in
Nashville. Ironically, the founder of WSM's hugely influential Grand Ole Opry programs, which
started in Nashville on November 28, 1925, George D. Hay, had gained his first radio
experience in Memphis.
The second radio station, WHBQ, appears in Memphis, in March 1925. This is followed by
WGBC (1925) and WNBR (1927), the latter owned by another newspaper, the Memphis Press-
Scimitar. These stations combined to become WMPS in 1937 and develop into the largest
station in town when taken over in 1947 by Plough Incorporated. The top news and
information radio station is WREC which moved to Memphis in 1929 from earlier locations in
Coldwater, Mississippi and Whitehaven, Tennessee. Other stations followed these into a
regional market which, by the 1940s, is the eleventh largest in the USA. The other stations
include KWEM in West Memphis and WHHM.
Tom Lee becomes a national hero when he rescues some 30 passengers from the Mississippi
River after the steamboat M.E. Norman overturns near Memphis.
Southwestern (now Rhodes College) moves to Memphis from Clarksville, Tennessee.
- Actually, WGBC (which stood for the World's Greatest Bible Class), owned by the First
Baptist Church of Memphis, signed on the air for the first time in November 1924. The
church operated a 10-watt transmitter from its location at Linden and Lauderdale,
broadcasting a weekly men's Bible class each Sunday. It was silent the remainder of the
week. Eventually the church's license was bought out by WNBR and operated as WGBCWNBR,
then just as WNBR prior to being purchased by the Memphis Press-Scimitar in 1937.
Many thanks for Skip Howard, church archivist for the historic First Baptist Church of Memphis, for
correct information of WGBC.
NOVEMBER 28, 1925 SATURDAY
The Barn Dance Format Launches - The show that will become the Grand Ole Opry radio
"barn dance" program begins its run on WSM radio out of Nashville, Tennessee. It will grow to
be the most popular and important program of its kind and launch the careers of many of
country music's biggest stars.
Texas Blind Lemon Jefferson recorded "That Black Snake Moon" in Chicago. The success of
these recordings revolutionized Race Records, which had previously relied on female band
vocalists with established reputations.
Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues" and "Black Bottom Stomp" were recorded.
Duke Ellington's first recording of his "East St. Louis Toodle-Ooo".
Carl Van Vechten's "Nigger Heaven"; Vanity Fair publishes Van Vechten's essay on "Negro
Year of birth of Dewey Phillips, who grows up in the small town of Adamsville, West
Jimmie Lunceford, a gym teacher from the Manasas High School in North Memphis, formed a
school band the Chickasaw Syncopaters went in 1927 professional, and within a few years,
with Jimmy Crawford on drums and Memphian Moses Allen on bass, the Lunceford big band
was earning a reputation as the most danceable black swing band. Memphis remained
Lunceford's adopted home, and when he died in 1947 he was buried there. Lunceford
definitely had the 'Memphis thing', that combination of versatility and showmanship that he
shared with W.C. Handy, Buster Bailey, Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Otis Redding, and the other
Memphis music stars.
Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein "Il's Show Boat".
The Great Mississippi River Flood.
Al Jolson wears blackface for "The Jazz Singer", the first "talkie".
Charles Lindbergh crosses the Atlantic.
The man who first discovered local Memphis music was Victor's Ralph Peer(*) who brought
portable recording equipment to the city between February 24 and March 1, 1927. Using the
McCall Building downtown as a studio, he recorded 34 tunes, mostly blues, and comes back
during the three succeeding years building up a strong roster of blues which include Will
"Son Brimmer" Shade's Memphis Jug Band, Cannon's Jug Stompers and Tommy Johnson. On
the first trip in 1927 Peer recorded 26 titles by black blues or gospel artists, 4 by a jazz
band, and 4 by a white gospel septet. There is no white country music as such. It was a
historic occasion; those Victor sessions by the Memphis Jug Band were the first commercial
recordings ever made in the state of Tennessee.
Jim Jackson, a Hernando, Mississippi, native became the first solo Memphis blues star with
his Vocalion recording "Jim Jackson's Kansas City Blues". It can be heard in the banjo-esque,
open-tuned guitar of Furry Lewis.
The Sears, Roebuck mail-order company was closely allied with radio Station WLS in Chicago.
They issued records recorded by other companies. Their first Country label was Challenge in
1927 followed by Conqueror, Silvertone and Supertone.
FEBRUARY 3, 1927 THURSDAY
Future country, rockabilly, and Sun Records artist, Luke Jefferson McDaniel is born in Laurel,
Mississippi to Jesse and Viola McDaniel.
THE ORPHEUM THEATER
(See: Historic Memphis)
- Rapp and Rapp, Chicago, Architects. 203 South Main Street on the
corner of Beale. At one time the site of the C.B. Bryan Wood and Coal Yard. It was replaced,
in 1889, by the Hopkins Grand Opera House. The Chickasaw Guards, a nationally recognized
military unit of the Tennessee National Guard, used the opera house as their headquarters.
The Orpheum Vaudeville Theater Circuit purchased the building in 1908. The theater,
destroyed by fire in 1923, was replaced by the present structure in 1928, the spectacular
structure found its niche for decades as the Malco Theater, the most popular movie house in
Today, the new Orpheum showed films and booked nationally-known vaudeville acts
and top-match orchestras. After years of neglect, the Memphis Development Foundation
restored the theater to its original condition. It opened in 1984.
In 1997, the Orpheum Theater celebrating its 70th anniversary, the Orpheum's 1998-1999
Broadway show schedule includes Camelot, Chicago, Peter Pan, Rent, Miss Saigon, and
Jekyll and Hyde. The Orpheum is also home to Ballet Memphis, Opera Memphis, and
frequent performances by the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. Other hosted events include
the Annual Orpheum Auction Gala, the Summer Movie Series, the Annual Art and Antique
Action, and other special events and concerts.
First Country Stars Recorded at Bristol - During the first week of August, Ralph Peer makes
the recordings of the now famous "Bristol Sessions" in Bristol, Tennessee, introducing fans to
the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, the two most influential acts in the early history of
The Opry begins its official run at WSM's Saturday night "barn dance" program officially
becomes the Grand Ole Opry.
DECEMBER 3, 1927 SATURDAY
Texas born Blind Willie Johnson records in Dallas, Texas. These and all of his subsequent
recordings blurred the lines between blues and gospel music.
RALPH SYLVESTER PEER
- (1892-1960) Music publisher and talent scout. Although Peer was
born in Kansas City, Mo. on May 22, 1892, and although he never expressed a great fondness
for southern folk music, Ralph Sylvester Peer became the single most important
entrepreneur for country and blues recordings. He discovered, or was instrumental in the
careers of, dozens of southern artists, both black and white, including Louis Armstrong, the
Memphis Jug Band, Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, Mamie Smith, the Georgia Yellow
Hammers, Fiddlin' John Garson, Ernest Stoneman, Grayson and Whitter (with their initial
recording of the murder balled "Tom Dooley"), the Reverend J.M. Gates (one of the first
black preachers to record extensively), the Reverent Andrew Jenkins (a prolific 'event song'
composer of items like "The Death Of Floyd Collins"), and Gene Autry (who began as an
imitator of Jimmie Rodgers). He initiated the practice of bringing recording crews into the
South to document black and white folk music; he created the idea of having "blues" and
"hillbilly" numerical series on commercial phonograph records; he was one of the first to
publish and copyright country and blues songs; and he became in the 1930s and 1940s an
innovative and trent-setting publisher of international reputation.
Peer's father was a Columbia Record Company phonograph dealer in Independence, Mo., and
by the time he was 20, Ralph Peer was working full time in the retail record business. By
1920 he was in New York working for the Okeh Record Company (actually the General
Phonograph Corporation), then one of the smaller of the record companies and one looking
for ways to get an edge on their bigger competitors. They found one when, on August 10,
1920, Peer recorded black Cincinnati vaudeville performer Mamie Smith singing "Crazy
Blues", a composition by a Georgia native named Perry Bradford. The record sold 7,500
copies a week after its release and became the first in a long line of commercial recordings
of blues by black artists. Three years later, in June 1923, Peer stumbled into a similar
discovery for white folk music; on a field trip to Atlanta he recorded a millhand and radio
personality named Fiddlin' John Carson. Peer thought Carson's singing was "puperfect awful"
but agreed to release his rendition of "The Little Old Log Cabin In The Lane", an 1871 pop
song by Will Hays. It duplicated the success of "Crazy Blues", and soon Peer had initiated an
"old-time music" record series on Okeh to parallel its blues series.
From 1923 to 1932 Peer made dozens of trips into southern cities such as Dallas, El Paso,
Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, New Orleans, Charlotte, Bristol, and others seeking out and
recording on the spot hundreds of blues, gospel, jazz, country, Cajun, and Tex-Mex
performers. On one such trip, to the Virginia-Tennessee border town of Bristol in August
1927, he discovered two acts that were to become cornerstones for commercial country
music - the Carter Family and "blue yodeler" Jimmie Rodgers.
Dominating all of this, though, was Peer's unusual interest in both black and white music,
and his perception of ways in which the two could mutually influence each other. He
theorized that both genres were just emerging from their vernacular regional base into the
national limelight. He encouraged acts like the Allen Brothers, the Carolina Tar Heels, and
Jimmie Rodgers to incorporate blues into their music, and felt that this was one of the
reasons that Rodgers enjoyed a wider national appeal than did the Carters.
In 1925 Ralph Peer left the Okeh Company and went to work for the Victor Company, trading
his huge Okeh salary for more modest gains but an additional incentive; the right to control
the copyrights on the new song materials recorded by his artists. Peer began to look for
artists who could create original material that he could copyright for them and place in his
newly formed Southern Music Publishing Company (1928); such artists would get payment
not only for records but for song performance rights as well. The increased emphasis on new
material encouraged many blues and part-time country singers to become professionals and
prompted the music as a whole to become more commercialized. And throughout the 1930s
and 1940s he continued to build a publishing empire (which exists today as one of the
country's largest, the Peer-Southern organization) and to excel even at casual hobbies, such
as horticulture, for which he received a gold medal for his important work. Though in later
years he expressed disdain for the country and blues artists he developed ("I've tried so hard
to forget them", he told a reporter), and though some of his artists felt that he had exploited
them, Peer laid the foundation for the commercialization of American vernacular music and
thrust the rich southern folk music tradition into the mainstream of American popular music.
PEER'S LATER YEARS
After securing sole control of his copyrights, Peer exited Victor to concentrate on the
international music market, establishing Southern Music offices in London, Paris, Rome,
Madrid, Mexico City, and Havana. While the outbreak of World War II threatened to curtail
Peer's global ambitions, at home he dealt with the American Society of Composers, Authors,
and Publishers' 1941 decision to pull its copyrights from radio in a royalties dispute.
Southern negotiated with ASCAP's rival Broadcast Music Inc. to license the adapted Latin
American songs Peer had collected for years, giving traditional standards like "Perfidia,"
"Brazil," and "Besame Mucho" new life on U.S. radio, and though ASCAP's radio boycott lasted
only a few weeks, the opening was enough to establish BMI as a true contender to the
Following the war, Peer changed course again, signing contemporary classical composers like
Charles Ives, Jean Sibelius, and Virgil Thomson, and Southern Music's catalog only grew in
value with the advent of rock & roll, as acts including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, the
Platters, and the Rolling Stones made its old songs new all over again. But by this time Peer
devoted much of his time and energy to horticulture, becoming director of the American
Horticultural Society in 1959. He died in Los Angeles on January 19, 1960.
THE TALKING MACHINE COMES TO MEMPHIS
- There is an old adage that Nashville is the capital of Tennessee and Memphis
is the capital of Mississippi. Geographically isolated from most of the state, Memphis has always looked south toward the Delta,
rather than east toward Nashville, for the commerce that sustained it. As in life, so in music. By the mid-1920s record companies
had started to bring portable recording equipment into the South, usually setting up shop in a hotel, staying for a few days, then
When Ralph Peer, representing the Victor Talking Machine Company, set up makeshift studios in Tennessee in 1927, he
captured entirely different musical traditions at the two extremes of the state.
In the far northwest corner, the city of Bristol yielded Appalachian folk ballads grounded in the Anglo-Celtic traditions. In Memphis,
Peer recorded mostly jug band music, jazz, and blues, music with African-American roots. Using a room in the McCall Building as a
temporary studio, Peer recorded thirty-four tunes between February 24 and March 1 of that year. He returned during the three
succeeding years to build up a strong roster of bluesmen and jug bands, laying the groundwork for the city's first recording boom,
which, in common with similar groundswells in most other regional centers, simply evaporated during the Great Depression.
Some of Sam Phillips' earliest recordings, which featured jug band veteran Charlie Burse and other artists who had recorded before
the war, such as Jack Kelly and Sleepy John Estes, harked back to the traditions Peer had drawn upon. Otherwise, the scene had
changed completely by the time Phillips picked up the threads.
The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) bought the Victor Talking Machine Company.
Leroy Carr's "How Long - How Long Blues", Tampa Red and Georgia Tom's "It's Tight Like
That", and Clarence Pine Top" Smith's "Pine Top's Boogie Woogie" were recorded. Louis
Armstrong's "West End Blues" and "Weather Bird" recorded. The Southern drought described
in Son House's "Dry Spell Blues".
The curtain goes up at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, built downtown on the site of the
Grand Opera House. The building becomes the Malco movie theatre in 1940, and re-opens as
a performing-arts center - again called The Orpheum - in 1984.
White blues and ragtime duo Austin and Lee Allen were mistakenly placed in Columbia
Records "race" section, the Franklin, Tennessee, natives sued their record company for
$250,000. Yet it was hardly a random error; musically the Allen Brothers records fit the
"race" section far more than some of the countrified material put out by such black string
bands as the Mississippi Sheiks.
Mississippi John Hurt made the trip to Memphis from Avalon, just north of Greenwood. He
came to record for Okeh, on the suggestion of his friends Shell Smith and Willie Narmour.
Texas Alexander recorded "Texas Easy Street Blues", a typical holler-style blues.
Continued: History Of Memphis 2
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