Highly Anticipated National Blues Museum Nears Debut in St. Louis
The wait is almost over as the National Blues Museum nears completion in St. Louis. Located on lively Washington Avenue, it will be the centerpiece of the popular Mercantile Exchange (MX) District in the heart of downtown St. Louis and ideally positioned within steps of America’s Center convention complex, shopping, restaurants, entertainment and first-class accommodations, as well as some of St. Louis’ most popular sites, including the Gateway Arch, Laclede’s Landing, Busch Stadium and the Edward Jones Dome.
The blues transformed America and St. Louis is uniquely suited to serve as the home of the National Blues Museum as it is centrally located between Memphis and Chicago, and shares in the long history of the music that helped shaped our nation and telling the stories of pain, sorrow and life. Blues music has the ability to convey raw, genuine emotion and transform it into a visceral and cathartic experience, giving meaning and substance to every other type of music that has derived from it.
The mission statement of the museum declares, “The National Blues Museum explores and preserves the historic significance of the Blues as the foundation of American Music, celebrates the genre’s various styles, and recognizes the musicians who created, sustain and advance the art form.”
What makes The National Blues Museum different from other museums? Executive Director Dion Brown says, “There is a larger partnership with the entire Blues community. It looks at the whole picture, not just one area. It pulls from each style to tell the message, to tell the complete story of the blues. And with supporters like Blues icons Buddy Guy, Denise LaSalle, Derek Trucks, Shemekia Copeland, Robert Cray and actor John Goodman, it is clear there’s a story that people want to hear.”
Engaging the Community
Why a national blues museum in St. Louis? Aside from being centrally located in the country,
St. Louis has a deep history and culture of blues music that continues today. The Mississippi River made for an easy migration of musicians, growing the city into a major hub for the blues. In 1914, W.C. Handy was inspired to write one of the most popular blues songs in history, “St. Louis Blues,” while sitting on the riverfront in St. Louis.
The influence of those original founders is still strongly felt in the St. Louis music scene. The museum will host live music and jam sessions with local musicians. Both live and recorded music will be piped throughout the museum and outside to the heavy foot traffic along Washington Avenue and the dining spaces around Sugarfire Smoke House restaurant, which is a partner of the museum.
The National Blues Museum boasts a multi-functional event space that will highlight the role of St. Louis in blues music’s sweeping history. The entire museum, including an exclusive 150-seat performance area, is a total 27,000 square-foot event space that is available for rent. It invites the St. Louis community as well as national and international visitors to come and enjoy the space; soaking up the blues along with everything else St. Louis has to offer.
Experiencing the Blues
The museum takes things a step further with exhibits that move you from merely listening to and enjoying the blues to actually creating music yourself. Instruments are made available to play. A museum goer can sit down at the drums or pick up a guitar and try their hand at a riff that they can then record and keep. Impromptu jam sessions are enjoyed – and encouraged.
Artifacts from blues musicians and history are displayed throughout the museum. Educational and inspirational films feature artists like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Ray Charles. In one exhibit you can give yourself a blues name. In another, a child can learn how to play an instrument, possibly sparking a passion to become the next great blues artist.
Passion for the blues is at the heart of the museum. Its mission is not only to be the premier entertainment spot focused on the blues, but it also strives to be a strong resource for music education. Plans are underway to start a National Band and Mentoring Leadership Program as well as other educational programs. Mr. Brown believes the museum has a significant obligation, “to this music, those who created it, and those who will discover it.”
Not a musician himself, Mr. Brown’s background is on the business side with over 30 years of management experience. He led the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center and looks forward to making The National Blues Museum a global destination. When asked how he got into blues music, he said, “Once you meet the musicians and hear their stories, you become a fan. And that is what the blues is really all about – it’s music that tells a story.”
St. Louis is an important part of that story and the National Blues Museum will help tell the world about our city’s connection to music and the amazing artists who brought the Blues to life. So make sure to include the National Blues Museum to your must-see St. Louis attractions, right along with the Gateway Arch, Forest Park and Cardinals’ baseball. We’re sure you’ll find it has been worth the wait.