A few blocks from the Mississippi River levee where a homeless W.C. Handy, who is widely recognized as "Father of the Blues," composed the song "St. Louis Blues" more than 100 years ago, the first national blues museum in the United States is taking shape.
While several regional blues museums have popped up around the country, in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as Clarksdale, Mississippi, and Helena, Arkansas, the St. Louis institution will be the first to tell the story of the unique American musical form from a national perspective.
Organizers say it's time that St. Louis, a city with a long musical tradition but without the high profile of Chicago, New Orleans or Memphis, stepped up its visibility in the music world.
The National Blues Museum, which museum chairman Rob Endicott said he hoped would open next year depending on the final design, would be a part of an ongoing public and private effort to revitalize the St. Louis riverfront.
"The idea is to make it a technology-driven, interactive experience. We will have the memorabilia, too, but it won't be a museum of just artifacts," he said.
The museum group, which is using private donations, has obtained space in an 1892 department store building that is part of the 1.5 million-square-foot, $250 million Mercantile Exchange District whose development is being funded by private businesses that receive both state and federal tax credits.
An 11-day Bluesweek celebration that will help support the museum was announced last week. It includes a three-day Memorial Day weekend concert at the downtown Soldiers' Memorial and a blues pub crawl in Soulard, the neighborhood where the blues in St. Louis was revived in the 1980s.
Headliners for Bluesweek include national blues acts Shemekia Copeland, Bobby Rush, Kelly Hunt and Arthur Williams, plus regional acts from St. Louis, Kansas and Mississippi.