Beale Street: Wikis


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Beale Street Historic District
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark District
Beale Street, showing King’s Palace Cafe, Beale St. Tap Room, and Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall.
Location: Beale St. from Main to 4th Sts., Memphis, Tennessee
Coordinates: 35°8′22″N 90°3′7″W / 35.13944°N 90.05194°W / 35.13944; -90.05194Coordinates: 35°8′22″N 90°3′7″W / 35.13944°N 90.05194°W / 35.13944; -90.05194
Area: 27 acres (0.109 km2)[1]
Built/Founded: 1900
Architectural style(s): Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals, Late 19th And Early 20th Century American Movements
Governing body: Local
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[2]
Designated NHLD: May 23, 1966[3]
NRHP Reference#: 66000731

Beale Street is a street in Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, which runs from the Mississippi River to East Street, a distance of approximately 1.8 miles (2.9 km). It is a significant location in the city's history, as well as in the history of the blues. Today, the blues clubs and restaurants that line Beale Street are major tourist attractions in Memphis. Festivals and outdoor concerts periodically bring large crowds to the street and its surrounding areas. Though given an exemption by the state of Tennessee to keep clubs open until 5 a.m., there is now an effort to reduce the hours to a 3 am closing time.[4]



Beale Street was created in 1841 by entrepreneur and developer Robertson Topp (1807–1876), who named it for a forgotten military hero.[5][6][7] The original name was Beale Avenue. Its western end primarily housed shops of trade merchants, who traded goods with ships along the Mississippi River, while the eastern part developed as an affluent suburb.[6] In the 1860s, many black traveling musicians began performing on Beale. The first of these to call Beale Street home were the Young Men's Brass Band,[6] who were formed by Sam Thomas in 1867.

In the 1870s, the population of Memphis was rocked by a series of yellow fever epidemics, leading the city to forfeit its charter in 1879.[6] During this time Robert Church purchased land around Beale Street that would eventually lead to his becoming the first black millionaire from the south.[6] In 1890, Beale Street underwent renovation with the addition of the Grand Opera House, later known as the Orpheum. In 1899, Robert Church paid the city to create Church Park at the corner of 4th and Beale. It became a recreational and cultural center, where blues musicians could gather. A major attraction of the park was an auditorium that could seat 2,000 people.[8] Some of the famous speakers in the Church Park Auditorium were Woodrow Wilson, Booker T. Washington, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.[6]

In the early 1900s, Beale Street was filled with clubs, restaurants and shops, many of them owned by African-Americans. In 1889, NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells was a co-owner and editor of an anti-segregationist paper called Free Speech based on Beale. Beale Street Baptist Church, Tennessee's oldest surviving African American Church edifice built in 1864, was also important in the early civil rights movement in Memphis.

In 1905, Mayor Thornton was looking for a music teacher for his Knights of Pythias Band and called Tuskegee Institute to talk to his friend, Booker T. Washington, who recommended a trumpet player in Clarksdale, Mississippi, named W. C. Handy. Mayor Thornton contacted Mr. Handy, and Memphis became the home of the famous musician who created the "Blues on Beale Street". Mayor Thornton and his three sons also played in Handy's band.

In 1909, W. C. Handy wrote "Mr. Crump" as a campaign song for political machine leader E. H. Crump. The song was later renamed "The Memphis Blues". Handy also wrote a song called "Beale Street Blues" in 1916 which influenced the change of the street's name from Beale Avenue to Beale Street. From the 1920s to the 1940s, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B. B. King, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon and other blues and jazz legends played on Beale Street and helped develop the style known as Memphis Blues.

In 1938, Lewis O. Swingler, editor of the Memphis World Newspaper, a Negro newspaper, in an effort to increase circulation, conceived the idea of a "Mayor of Beale St.", having readers vote for the person of their choice. Matthew Thornton, Sr., a well-known community leader, active in political, civic and social affairs and one of the charter members of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, won the contest against nine opponents and received 12,000 of the 33,000 votes cast. Mr. Thornton was the original "Mayor of Beale St." an honorary position that he retained until he died in 1963 at the age of 90.

Beale street in 1974

In the 1960s, Beale became run down and many stores closed, although on May 23, 1966, the section of the street from Main to 4th was declared a National Historic Landmark.[3][1] On December 15, 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the "Home of the Blues" by an act of Congress. Despite this national recognition of its historic significance, it was not until the 1980s that Beale Street received attention from local lawmakers, which led to an economic revitalization, with many new clubs and attractions opening. The street is now home to a chapter of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

During the first weekend of May (sometimes including late April), the Beale Street Music Festival brings major music acts from a variety of musical genres to Tom Lee Park at the end of Beale Street on the Mississippi River. The festival is the kickoff event of a month of festivities citywide known as Memphis in May.[9]


  • Blues City Cafe & The Band Box (138-142 Beale)
  • B. B. Kings Blues Club (143 Beale)
  • Memphis Music (149 Beale)
  • Club 152 (152 Beale)
  • The Shadows (152 Beale)
  • Tater Red’s (153 Beale)
  • Miss Polly's Soul City Cafe (154 Beale)
  • Alley Cats (156 Beale)
  • Willis Gallery (156 Beale)
  • Superior Bar
  • King’s Palace Cafe (162 Beale)
  • A. Schwab's (163 Beale St)
  • The Pig (167 Beale)
  • Beale St. Tap Room (168 Beale)
  • The Black Diamond (153 Beale)
  • Strange Cargo (172 Beale)
  • Rum Boogie Cafe (182 Beale)
  • Silky O Sullivan’s (183 Beale)
  • Memphis Rock N Soul Museum (191 Beale)
  • Alfred's On Beale (197 Beale)
  • Beale Street Visitors Center (200 Beale)
  • Beale Street Corporate Offices (202, 203 Beale)
  • Dyer’s Famous Hamburgers (205 Beale)
  • Wet Willies (209 Beale)
  • Hard Rock Cafe (315 Beale)
  • People’s Billiard Club (323 Beale)
  • Coyote Ugly (326 Beale)
  • Historic Daisy Theater (329 Beale)
  • The New Daisy Theatre (330 Beale)
  • Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall
  • Beale Street Tattoo (333 Beale)
  • Eel Etc. Fashions (333 Beale)
  • Performa Entertainment Real Estate
  • Blues Hall Coffee Shop
  • Double Deuce Downtown
  • Richard Johnston live blues
  • The Beale Street Flippers

Musical references

  • The songs "My Jesus" and "On a Corner in Memphis" by Todd Agnew contains references to Beale Street.
  • The body of singer/songwriter Jeff Buckley was found at the foot of Beale Street after he drowned in the nearby Wolf River Harbor.
  • Clutch (a rock band from Maryland) has an album titled From Beale Street to Oblivion. A song on that album, "The Devil & Me", contains a reference to Beale Street.
  • The song "Walking in Memphis" by Marc Cohn contains the line "walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale," in a reference to Beale Street.
  • Joni Mitchell's song, "Furry Sings The Blues", is a lamentation of the redevelopment of Beale Street in the late 1960s. It references W.C. Handy and both the Old and The New Daisy Theatre's, among others.[10]
  • The Depression era Memphis band known as The Beale Street Sheiks, the most notable member being Frank Stokes, recorded a song called "Beale Town Bound", which is an obvious reference to Memphis itself.
  • Cab Calloway's song "Beale Street Mama" is all about Beale Street.
  • Jimmie Rodgers' Standing on the Corner (Blue Yodel No. 9) is set in Memphis: "It was down in Memphis/the corner of Beale and Main..."
  • B.B. King refers to Beale Street in his song "Why I Sing The Blues."
  • The folk song "Cocaine Blues" (covered by artists like Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk) includes the reference "Then I walked down 10th street, turned down Beale, looking for a guy they call Lucille."


  1. ^ a b Cecil McKithan and Horace Sheely (1988) (PDF), National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Beale Street / Beale Street Historic District, National Park Service,, retrieved 2009-06-22   and Accompanying 15 photos, from 1965 and undatedPDF (3.53 MB)
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  3. ^ a b "Beale Street Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-02-29.  
  4. ^ Elkington, John (2007-08-17). "Performa dedicated to safe Beale experience". The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, Tennessee). Retrieved 2008-08-27.  
  5. ^ "About Beale Street". Retrieved 2007-06-23.  
  6. ^ a b c d e f Raichelson, Richard M. (1999). Beale Street Talks: A Walking Tour Down The Home Of The Blues. Memphis, TN: Arcadia Records. ISBN 0-9647545-1-7.  
  7. ^ Genealogical Tidbits, Memphis Daily Appeal, 1876
  8. ^ Barlow, William. "Looking Up At Down": The Emergence of Blues Culture. Temple University Press (1989), p. 208. ISBN 0-87722-583-4.
  9. ^ "Memphis in May Webpage".  
  10. ^ - Lyrics: Furry Sings The Blues

External links



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