In 1916 WC Handy’s Beale Street Blues was the first piece of blues music to be printed and distributed widely in the United States. It exposed the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, to the blues music that was coming up out of the Mississippi Delta, and to the song’s titular street.

If you’re familiar with the musical structure of the blues, you might have trouble hearing what ties Handy’s work to that of Son House or Robert Johnson, but listen to the phrasing. The traditional three bar blues is still there, just “whitified” for popular consumption. Because of Handy and his ability to turn poor, Southern folk music into something for everyone, blues would skyrocket in popularity, meld with jazz and ultimately give birth to rock and roll. Everyone from Cab Calloway to Buddy Holly to the Beatles to Public Enemy can look to Handy and say what they did started with him.

And all because of one short, dirty street in Memphis, Tennessee.

You’ll see pretty browns in beautiful gowns,
You’ll see tailor-mades and hand-me-downs,
You’ll meet honest men, and pick-pockets skilled,
You’ll find that business never ceases ’til somebody gets killed!

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk,
Except one or two who never drink booze,
And the blind man on the corner singing “Beale Street Blues!”

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This has been your Friday Frequency.