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"St. Louis Blues"
St. Louis Blues cover.jpg
Sheet music cover
Written by W. C. Handy
Published 1914
Form Blues

"St. Louis Blues" is an American popular song composed by William Christopher Handy in the blues style. It remains a fundamental part of jazz musicians' repertoire. It was also one of the first blues songs to succeed as a pop song; it has been performed by numerous musicians of all styles from Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith to Glenn Miller and the Boston Pops Orchestra. It has been called "the jazzman's Hamlet". Published in September 1914 by Handy's own company, it later gained such popularity that it inspired the dance step the "Foxtrot".

The version with Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong on cornet was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1993. The 1929 version by Louis Armstrong & His Orchestra (with Henry "Red" Allen) was inducted there in 2008.

Contents

The song

The lyrics tell of a sophisticated woman from St. Louis, Missouri who has stolen the affection of the singer's lover. The opening line, "I hate to see that evenin' sun go down" may be one of the more recognizable lyrics in pop music, and set the tone for many subsequent blues songs.

Handy said he had been inspired by a chance meeting with a black woman on the streets of St. Louis distraught over her husband's absence, who lamented: "Ma man's got a heart like a rock cast in de sea", a key line of the song.[1] Details of the story vary but agree on the meeting and the phrase.

The composition

The form is unusual in that the verses are the now familiar "standard" twelve bar blues in common time with three lines of lyrics, the first two lines repeated, but it also has a 16-bar bridge written in the habanera rhythm, popularly called the "Spanish Tinge", and identified by Handy as tango.[2][3]

Handy's tango like rhythm is notated as a dotted quarter note, followed by an eighth, and two quarter notes, with no slurs or ties, and is seen in the introduction as well as the sixteen measure bridge.[4]

While blues became often simple and repetitive in form, the St. Louis Blues has multiple complementary and contrasting strains, similar to classic ragtime compositions.

Handy said in writing "St. Louis Blues" his objective was "to combine ragtime syncopation with a real melody in the spiritual tradition."

Performances

"St. Louis Blues"
Single by Bessie Smith
Released 1925
Format 78 rpm record
Recorded January 14, 1925, New York City, NY
Genre Blues
Length 3:11
Label Columbia Records
14064-D
Writer(s) W. C. Handy

Writing about the first time St Louis Blues was played (1914),[5] Handy notes that "The one-step and other dances had been done to the tempo of Memphis Blues...When St Louis Blues was written the tango was in vogue. I tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. My eyes swept the floor anxiously, then suddenly I saw lightening strike. The dancers seemed electrified. Something within them came suddenly to life. An instinct that wanted so much to live, to fling its arms to spread joy, took them by the heels."[6]

Researcher Guy Marco, in his book Encyclopedia of Recorded Sound in the United States, stated that the first audio recording of "St. Louis Blues" was by Al Bernard in July 1918 on the record company label Aeolian-Vocalion (cat. no. 12148). This is however not true, since Columbia's house band, directed by Charles A. Prince, had recorded a released instrumental version already in December 1915 (Columbia A5772). Bernard's version may have been the first US issue to include the lyrics though. However, by then Ciro's Club Coon Orchestra, a group of black American artists appearing in Britain, had already recorded a version including the lyrics in September 1917 (UK Columbia 699).

Since the 1910s, the number has enjoyed great popularity not only as a song but also as an instrumental.

Many of jazz's most well known artists in history have given renowned performances of the tune. The following is an incomplete list of the hundreds of musicians of renown who recorded "St. Louis Blues", chosen as examples that are early in their careers and in the era of its greatest popularity.

Other recordings include Louis Prima, Artie Shaw, The Esquire Boys, and "The Merri Men" (a spin-off group from Bill Haley & His Comets). It was also recorded on piano rolls.

It also has been used in the Malcolm McLaren song "About Her" from the soundtrack of the motion picture Kill Bill: Vol 2. The song covers both "St. Louis Blues" and a Zombies song "She's Not There".

Clarinet solo

With traditional New Orleans and New Orleans style bands, the tune is one of a handful which includes a set traditional solo. The clarinet solo with a distinctive series of rising partials was first recorded by Larry Shields on the 1921 Original Dixieland Jass Band record; it is not found on any earlier recordings nor published orchestrations of the tune. Shields is often credited with creating this solo, however alternative claims have been made for other early New Orleans clarinetists, including Emile Barnes.

Handy's royalties

At the time of his death in 1958, Handy was earning royalties upwards of US$25,000 annually for the song. The original published sheet music is available online at the United States Library of Congress in a searchable database of African American music from Brown University.[8].

Films

A number of short and feature films have been entitled St. Louis Blues; see: St. Louis Blues (film). "St. Louis Blues" is sung by Theresa Harris and played several times, including the opening credits, in the 1933 film Baby Face. [9] The song is also sung by Marcellite Garner as Minnie Mouse in the 1931 animated short film, Blue Rhythm. [10] It is played a number of times in the 1936 film "Banjo on my Knee" by Walter Brennan and is sung as a major production number by the Hall Johnson Choir as Barbara Stanwick looks on. [11]

Other

The St. Louis Blues NHL team is named after the W.C. Handy song, and their theme song is Handy's composition but played in a faster, jazzy version than the 'bluesy' original sound.

The title of William Faulkner's short story "That Evening Sun" (published 1931) references the famous opening lyrics from "St. Louis Blues".

"About Her" by Malcolm McLaren (from the "Kill Bill: Vol. 2" soundtrack) samples this song - in particular "My man's got a heart...like a rock cast in the sea".

References

  1. ^ http://bluesnet.hub.org/readings/st.louis.blues.html
  2. ^ Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. by W.C. Handy, edited by Arna Bontemps: foreword by Abbe Niles. Macmillan Company, New York; (1941) pages 99,100. no ISBN in this first printing
  3. ^ The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. revised. 1987. page 37
  4. ^ http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/S?ammem/aasm:@field(TITLE+@od1(St++Louis+blues+)) click on Rudi Valee version cover image, then advance pages
  5. ^ Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. by W.C. Handy, edited by Arna Bontemps: foreword by Abbe Niles. Macmillan Company, New York; (1941) page 305. no ISBN in this first printing
  6. ^ Father of the Blues: An Autobiography. by W.C. Handy, edited by Arna Bontemps: foreword by Abbe Niles. Macmillan Company, New York; (1941) pages 99,100. no ISBN in this first printing
  7. ^ Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. Cary Ginell. 1994. University of Illinois Press. page 245, 246. ISBN 0-252-02041-3
  8. ^ American Memory from the Library of Congress - Browse by
  9. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0023775/soundtrack
  10. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0021676/soundtrack
  11. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0027331/soundtrack

See also

External links

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