This Blues Museum Pays Homage To Black Musicians Who Helped Shape The Genre

“The blues are the roots, everything else is the fruits.”

When Dave Beardsley thinks about the influence the blues has had on multiple music genres, there's one saying that sticks out in his mind. 

"The blues are the roots, everything else is the fruits," he said to A Plus.

For Beardsley, the visitor experience coordinator and co-founder for the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, it's important to acknowledge how blues set the course for music history, something that was made possible by Black artists. 

"We celebrate the blues music as a truly African-American art form … that has since become universal," Beardsley said. "We connect the dots from blues, to jazz, to rock'n'roll, to rap."

Photo Credit: National Blues Museum
Photo Credit: National Blues Museum

The concept for the National Blues Museum to celebrate the genre's impact across the country was put together in 2010, but it wasn't until 2016 that its doors finally opened to the public. Although Beardsley refers to the National Blues Museum as "still a baby in museum time," its focus is building a landmark celebrating more than 125 years of history, commemorating artists from B.B. King to contemporary artist Gary Clark Jr. 

In fact, Beardsley points out that blues music in St. Louis can be traced back to 1893. 

"We're a legacy city," he said. "We were a live music capital then. We're still a music capital seven nights a week." 

Beardsley also added that for years, it felt like St. Louis wasn't considered a place where blues music was thriving.

"We fell off the radar, mainly because we didn't have a big record label," he said. "We didn't launch the careers of people who would go back to Chicago or back to Memphis to record with one of the big labels. So we were always the incubator for the talent, but the talent launched on a record label outside of St. Louis usually."

Photo Credit: National Blues Museum
Photo Credit: National Blues Museum

But things have changed with the National Blues Museum having a home in St. Louis. The museum gives visitors a taste of what to expect in their visit with a four-minute film narrated by Morgan Freeman, display cases featuring prominent blues artists, exhibits celebrating them, and even a chance to mix and match different types of blues music with its "Mix It Up" experience, one that was made possible by a six-figure donation from musician Jack White.

As visitors go through these different entry points to blues music, Beardsley can see how the museum influences their thoughts about the blues.

"A lot of people have a preconceived idea of what they think blues music is," he said. "My favorite moment in the museum is when somebody comes in with that preconceived idea and by the time they leave, they've learned all the flavors of the blues, and the connections to rock and rap. They realize, 'I've loved it all along, I thought it was this, but it also sounds like this.'" 

Even Beardsley's taken a lot away from working in the museum.

"I'm always learning something," he said. "Every time I go through the museum, I'll read something, or I'll come back and do a deep dive into somebody. So I'm always trying to be better at what I do." 

Photo Credit: National Blues Museum
Photo Credit: National Blues Museum

Looking ahead to the future of the National Blues Museum, Beardsley said there's a lot more on the horizon. In January, a jam band called Sittin' On the Porch was formed, featuring 20 different players who come in to perform with other musicians whenever they can. The band will hit the road this summer with a few events around St. Louis and could potentially expand in the future.

When it comes to inner workings of the museum, Beardsley said they hope to receive more funding in order to acquire more blues artifacts, teach the blues in schools, do some senior citizen outreach, and eventually have things such as a radio show and podcast in order to reach a larger audience.

"We get outside the walls of the museum because we're the National Blues Museum, we can't just live in St. Louis, Missouri," he said. "It just wouldn't work." 

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