Beale Street Blues

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"Beale Street Blues"
Sheet music cover
Song by Gilda Gray
Songwriter(s)W.C. Handy

"Beale Street Blues" is a song by American composer and lyricist W.C. Handy. It was named after Beale Street, a center of African-American music in Memphis, Tennessee, and was published in 1917.


The title refers to Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee,[1] an entertainment district for the city's African-American population in the early part of the 20th century.[1]

Composition and lyrics[edit]

"Beale Street Blues" "juxtaposes the 12-bar blues form with an 8-bar counter-theme".[1] Like many of Handy's songs, it is a hybrid of the blues style with the popular ballad style of the day; the opening lyrics follow a line pattern typical of Tin Pan Alley songs and the later stanzas give way to the traditional three-line pattern characteristic of the blues.[citation needed]

The song was published in 1917[1] by the Pace and Handy music company.

Early versions[edit]

The publication of the song coincided with the beginning of jazz recordings.[1] An early version by Earl Fuller's Famous Jazz Band earned Handy's firm $2,857 in royalties.[1] The song was first popularized for a mass audience when sung on Broadway by Gilda Gray in the 1919 musical revue Schubert's Gaieties.[citation needed] A version by singer Marion Harris was a top 10 hit in December 1921.[1] More typically, however, in the early years after it was written, jazz musicians played instrumental versions of the song.[1]

Later versions and influence[edit]

"Beale Street Blues" has been recorded by dozens of artists. The song is now in the public domain in the United States due to expiration of the copyright. Most recordings of it are still covered by their own copyrights.[citation needed]

Jack Teagarden used the song as a vocal showcase in the 1930s and 1940s, and recorded it with several bands in that period.[1] In the big band era, only a few of the well-known bands recorded it; these included Tommy Dorsey and Duke Ellington.[1] Since the 1950s, the song has been associated with trad bands.[1]

In the Paramount Pictures 1958 movie St. Louis Blues, starring Nat King Cole as Handy, Ella Fitzgerald sings a rendition of this song.

If Beale Street Could Talk, a 1974 novel by the American writer James Baldwin, refers to this song in its title. The novel was adapted as a film of the same name and released in November 2018 after being screened at the 2018 St. Louis International Film Festival.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Gioia, Ted (2012). Jazz Standards. Oxford University Press. pp. 31–32.

External links[edit]