St. Louis Music

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From local punk bands to symphony orchestras, garages to historic concert halls, St. Louis has a vibrant and diverse musical culture.

St. Louis is the home of the world-renowned St. Louis Symphony Orchestra which was founded in St. Louis in 1880--the second oldest orchestra in the nation--and which has over the years been honored with six Grammy Awards and fifty-six nominations. Powell Symphony Hall on North Grand Boulevard has been the permanent home of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra since 1968. Leonard Slatkin is one of the orchestra's major conductors; presently he conducts the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, DC.

St. Louis has long been associated with great ragtime, jazz, and blues music. Early rock and roll singer/guitarist Chuck Berry is a native St. Louisan and continues to perform there several times a year. Soul music artists Ike Turner and Tina Turner and jazz innovator Miles Davis began their careers in nearby East St. Louis. St. Louis has also been a popular stop along the infamous Chitlin Circuit.

Popular Music and entertainment in St. Louis peaked in the 1960s due to the popularity of Gaslight Square, a thriving local nightclub district that attracted nationally known musicians and performers. This area was all but extinct by the early 1970s and today is the site of a new housing development.

In the 1990s, the metro area produced several prominent alt-country artists, including Uncle Tupelo, a Belleville trio often considered the originators of the style, and The Bottle Rockets.

More recently, the rise of Nelly, The St. Lunatics, Murphy Lee, Chingy, J-Kwon, Ebony Eyez and other musicians have made it one of the centers of rap and hip-hop, often mentioned side-by-side with New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Detroit.

The turn of the century was also kind to several bands in the local underground / garage rock scenes, as many acts managed to gain some much deserved regional and national attention. From 2000 to the present, The Cripplers, The Trip Daddys, The Honkeys, The Gentleman Callers, 7 Shot Screamers, Long John Thomas and the Duffs, and The Vultures all signed with local and out-of-state independent record labels.

A Brief History

W.C. Handy stood on the banks of the Mississippi River in St. Louis and made his mark on the world of music. We presume he watched the muddy waters slip by his perch on the levee stones, closed his eyes to mark the moment and whispered, "I hate to see the evenin' sun go down." The song born of his riverfront reverie was called "The St. Louis Blues" and it has become one of the world's most recorded songs, cementing St. Louis' place in the world of American roots music forever.

Handy's contemporary, Scott Joplin, was a regular in the night spots around St. Louis during the time of the 1904 World's Fair. His ragtime tunes were the Rock'n'Roll of the era - the music of the counter culture. Some of Joplin's most important works were created while he played for society during the day and in the sporting houses and clubs of St. Louis at night. Joplin's house [www.mostateparks.com/scottjoplin.htm], a Missouri State Historic Landmark, is open daily for tours.

Jazz influences steamed into town aboard northbound riverboats from New Orleans where they blended with Joplin's established ragtime and encountered a great migration of blues musicians from the Mississippi delta region. The integration of these musical styles created a sound that took its name from Handy's famous composition and became known as the St. Louis blues. Some of the most famous influential jazz and blues musicians who were either born or lived in St. Louis include Louis Jordan, Henry Townsend, Josephine Baker, Lightnin' Slim, Fontella Bass, Johnnie Johnson, Oliver Sain, Jimmy Forrest, Bennie Smith, Red McKenzie, Clark Terry, and (of course) Miles Davis.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the St. Louis blues were joined by a new sound - R&B. Developed in the nightclubs of St. Louis and Memphis, the sound was described as a "driving dance beat combined with a bluesy delivery" that evolved out of the jump blues of the late '40s. St. Louisans Ike & Tina Turner were at the forefront of this St. Louis sound and R&B quickly grew to fill a popular music void created after the end of the Big Band jazz & swing era. Bands and musicians from St. Louis, Memphis and New Orleans took to the road, playing nightclubs, dancehalls and juke joints across America, spreading St. Louis' distinctive and innovative approach to music across the country and around the world. Today bands carry on the tradition of live St. Louis music in clubs throughout the region, and St. Louis still remains one of the predominant stops along the Chitlin Circuit. Some other prominent R&B artists from St. Louis are Ann Peebles, Screamin' Joe Neal, Willie King, Little Aaron, Johnny Lee Williams, Benny Sharp, Little Miss Jessie, Robert T. Smith, Fred Green, Art Lassiter, The Earthworms, The Kinglets, The Rockers, Little Herbert and The Arabians, Little Bobby Foster, Timothy Cooper, Johnny Wright, Little Cooper and The Drifters, and the Sammy Grimes Band.

Gaslight Square, located in the City of St. Louis from 1957 to 1967, was a hip, bohemian artistic area attracting many of St. Louis's most prominent personalities, some of which not only frequented, but also lived in the area. Gaslight Square was also known nationally as an entertainment district, attracting up-and-coming stars such as Barbara Streisand, The Smothers Brothers, Woody Allen, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, and countless others. Gaslight Square was a compact, thriving entertainment district that (at the time) was far more notorious than Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Original music was everywhere and the streets were lined with packed clubs and restaurants. The area boasted of live jazz, R&B, dixieland, poetry, Irish dancing, great food, and streetcars. Pedestrians would walk, cocktail in hand, from one club to the next. For a while you could even get a snow cone made with liquor until it was discovered that this was not exactly legal. It would take a half hour to go 2 blocks in your car. Gaslight Square was truly a unique, hot area. Now 35+ years later nothing remains of Gaslight Square's golden era except lingering memories. However, in 2004 a development corporation bought up much of the old Gaslight property and started to build brand new single and multiple family homes with architectural details that mirror much of the houses in older St. Louis neighborhoods.

See Also

External Links

  • Big Muddy Records - Local record label, home to 7 Shot Screamers
  • Dividing By Zero Will Get You Nowhere - Local MP3 blog focusing on St. Louis-area bands, national touring bands coming to St. louis, and other music-related features.
  • KDHX Concert Calendar - An interactive local concert calendar featuring upcoming concerts of every conceivable musical genre.
  • Lo-Fi Saint Louis - Bill Streeter's local video blog (VLOG) featuring videos of bands and other stuff shot in dirty li'l local rock'n'roll dive bars!
  • Wiley Price, Jr. - The story of St. Louis's first black disc jockey.
  • Rock'n'Roll Shoes - Strange website by a couple of St. Louisans who took their love of rock'n'roll and their love of shoes and combined the two to create this site. Has some relevant local music scene, and uh, shoes...
  • Pulse - "The St. Louis Music Source."
  • St. Louis Jazz Calendar - Calendar of live jazz events in and around St. Louis. Musicians can submit their own gigs, and fans can review and discuss local stars.
  • STLBlues.net - House Party of the Blues! To shout the St. Louis blues gospel to the farthest reaches of the Internet. The rich heritage of St. Louis blues music is world class, and needs to be shared with the world. The STLBlues mission is to bring you the blues talent that calls St. Louis home!
  • St. Louis Blues and Jazz Hall of Fame - St. Louis and East St. Louis, on the Mississippi River, the Illinois Central railroad line and Highway 61 have been home permanently or for extended periods of time to many stellar and lesser lights in the world of blues, jazz and gospel. This site showcases many of them.
  • St. Louis Concert Web - Relatively mainstream in design and appeal. Nevertheless some worthwhile information. Pages are slooooooow to load, though, so beware.
  • St. Louis Gothic & Industrial - Resource and portal site for the St. Louis "darkwave" community.
  • St. Louis Music Classified - Free classifieds for musicians in St. Louis.
  • The St. Louis Punk Page - STLPunk is a very nicely designed website with a TON of local folks online all the time, and a truly great resource for the local punk rock/hardcore/metal/rockabilly/garage punk and underground rock'n'roll scene.
  • St. Louis Raver - StL's local underground/dance scene.
  • STL Scene - St. Louis Local Music Scene site.
  • Trouble in River City (TIRC) Email List - Subscribe to this email list and you will receive news and events relating to the local garage punk/underground rock'n'roll music scene. If you just want to check what's happening without subscribing to an email list you can also just view the TIRC Forum.
  • Post-Dispatch Multimedia history of St. Louis Blues Music
  • The InsideSTL.com Music Section - This site is updated daily with content focusing on St. Louis local music events and concert reviews, along with local and national artist features and interviews!