St. Louis Blues (song)

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Sheet music cover of WC Cellphones St. Louis Blues from 1914

The St. Louis Blues or St. Louis Blues is a classic blues that WC Handy wrote. It was one of the first blues songs to be successful as a pop song . With interpretations by Sophie Tucker and Bessie Smith through Louis Armstrong , Glenn Miller , the Boston Pops Orchestra and The 12 Cellists to Archie Shepp and Aki Takase , but also repeated use in feature films, the composition has not only established itself as a jazz standard , but is rated as an evergreen due to its high level of awareness .

The song

Although the title suggests that it is a piece about the city of St. Louis , the text actually tells of a sophisticated woman from this city who has taken the singer's boyfriend away from the singer. The first line, I hate to see that evenin 'sun go down , is highly recognizable and was used in many later blues songs.

The genesis of the song is mysterious and not certain. Handy said in his autobiography that he was standing in a rather shabby front of a fish fryer in St. Louis when he discovered a woman next to him who was probably even worse. She said that her boyfriend had left her, then sang a line of lyrics (Ma man's got a heart like a rock cast in de sea) , a key phrase of the song. Different versions of the story are told, but in which the encounter and the phrase uttered are mentioned in unison. With this, Handy at least implies that the composition could not have come from him alone.

The composition

The type of composition is unusual, as the lyric is played in the normal 12-bar blues scheme ( shuffled ), but also contains a 16-bar bridge in Habanera rhythm, also known as the “Spanish Tingle” or “Straight”. In the bridge, the blues harmonic scheme is abandoned and the key changes between variant and dominant.

Excerpt from the St. Louis Blues . The left hand plays a habanera rhythm.

Tango was in great fashion by 1914 , so Handy gave the song a tango introduction, from which it suddenly switched to a blues to outsmart the dancers. While many other blues songs are kept simple and repetitive, the St. Louis blues contains many complementary and contrasting elements, similar to classic ragtime compositions. Handy said his goal in writing the song was to combine the ragtime syncopations with an actual melody.

Reception history

The first instrumental hit version comes from the Prince's Orchestra under the direction of G. Hepburn Wilson. It was recorded on December 18, 1915, published in May 1916 (Columbia # 5772) and reached number 4 on the US charts. The first vocal version is by Al Bernard , published in May 1919 and reached number 9. The greatest success for the time being was the version by Marion Harris , because its version, recorded on April 16, 1920, stood for three weeks after publication in August 1920 1. In 1921 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band with singer Al Bernhard also recorded the song and reached number 3 in the American charts. The composer's WC Handy Orchestra did not record the song until June 4, 1923, and later released it in November 1923 at Okeh Records and came to number 11 on the charts.

Further successful cover versions of the next few years come from:

Gilda Gray used the piece, published in September 1914, to introduce shimmy in the 1920s . The development of the foxtrot was also influenced by the song. The Ethiopians even made the song their war anthem in 1935 when the Italians started the Abyssinian War and occupied the country; the song had previously been played at the court of Emperor Haile Selassie .

The well-known American writer William Faulkner chose the title of his short story That Evening Sun , published in 1931 , which also appeared under the alternative title That Evening Sun Go Down , based on the first verses of the St. Louis Blues .

The title of the song also gave its name to the American professional ice hockey team " The St. Louis Blues " from St. Louis, Missouri.

Other versions

Prince's Band - St. Louis Blues
Thomas 'Fats' Waller - St. Louis Blues

Alberta Hunter played an important role in spreading the song in Europe . Recordings by Django Reinhardt and Teddy Stauffer as well as by German orchestras such as the Golden Seven , which recorded the piece in Berlin in November 1937, are known. In 1941 the title was recorded by the Nazi propaganda band Charlie and His Orchestra . Not only Louis Armstrong, but numerous female singers have recorded the St. Louis Blues several times: Sophie Tucker , Lizzie Miles , Mildred Bailey , Maxine Sullivan , Billie Holiday , Lena Horne and Ella Fitzgerald . Numerous other important jazz bands and interpreters have recorded the piece over the years, including (in brackets the year of recording):

A total of 132 versions are listed, 15 of which made it into the charts. Handy was still collecting $ 25,000 in royalties annually in the mid-1950s .

Use in film

A musical film entitled St. Louis Blues was produced by RKO Pictures in the early days of the talkies in 1929 with Bessie Smith as actress and singer, with the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, pianist James P. Johnson and the Hall Johnson Choir by RKO Pictures and was released in 1929 in theaters in the US. The film is set in Harlem; Directed by Dudley Murphy , who created with St. Louis Blues a cinematic and musically outstanding document of the Harlem Renaissance . The song was widely used in feature films:


Among other things, the piece was played at the Great Zapfenstreich to mark the farewell of Federal President Horst Köhler at his personal request. However, it was the adaptation of Glenn Miller , St. Louis Blues March . In addition to the St. Louis Blues , the Beale Street Blues and the Memphis Blues , both also by Handy, are classics of the blues.


Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Dietrich Schulz-Köhn , The Evergreen Story - 40 × Jazz Berlin 1990, p. 261
  2. ^ WC Handy, Father of the Blues , 1941, p. 46
  3. Tom Morgan, St. Louis Blues: An American Classic ( Memento of the original from April 8, 2004 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. ^ A b Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, Die Evergreen Story Berlin 1990, p. 263
  5. Cf. Bohländer, Reclams Jazzführer, as well as Johannes Feldmann Bürgers Tango und Jazz: Kulturelle Mutations? Münster 1995 p. 46
  6. Tom Morgan, St. Louis Blues (as above)
  7. Tim Gracyk, Frank W. Hoffmann: Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895-1925 (=  Haworth popular culture ). Psychology Press, 2000, ISBN 1-56024-993-5 , pp. 43 (English, 444 p., Limited preview in Google book search).
  8. ^ Carlo Bohländer , Reclams Jazz Guide
  9. Explanation in Lost Sounds , by Tim Brooks, Richard Keith Spottswood, p. 434 (as Google Book)
  10. The Golden Seven: St. Louis Blues ; November 11, 1937, Electrola EG6132, die ORA2384-1
  11. Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, Die Evergreen Story Berlin 1990, p. 268
  12. Consisting of Emmett Miller (vcl), Mannie Klein (tp), Tommy Dorsey (trb), Jimmy Dorsey (cl, as), Arthur Schutt (p), Eddie Lang (git), Stan King (dr)
  13. ^ Cover info on the St. Louis Blues
  14. Susan Delson, Dudley Murphy. Hollywood Wild Card, Minnesota 2006, pp. 93 f.
  15. Kieler Contributions to Film Music Research, Vol. 4 (2010), pp. 52–79.
  16. Großer Zapfenstreich, Köhler gets the Blues , by Katharina Schuler in: ZEIT ONLINE (from June 15, 2010)

Web links

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