Memphis Music Heritage: 1930’s-1940’s

Posted on May 1, 2014


img_83402By Isabelle Nelson and Parker Lyons

Today, a diverse mix of blues, jazz and soul music can still be heard in a variety of music venues and nightclubs along Beale Street. Beale Street is one of the city’s most treasured music locations and was a center for African American culture in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. The emergence of the AM radio, during the 1930’s and 1940’s, marked a significant movement in Memphis’s rich music history. The AM radio, which was once geared towards a primarily white-based audience, was now programmed mainly for African Americans. The popularity of the AM radio established a new outlet where developing blues musicians in the Memphis area could be heard. The introducing of the nation’s first radio station with an all-black format, 1070 WDIA-The Heart & Soul of Memphis, allowed artists such as B.B. King, Sonny Boy Williamson and Howlin’ Wolf to glide their way into the city’s blues music scene.

The radio, of course, was not the only place where Memphis musicians were discovered. At the Palace Theater on Beale Street, B.B. King played shows with acts such as Nighthawk and jug band player, Frank Stokes. Eventually acquiring the
nickname “Blues Boy” (shorted to “B.B”), King received a show on WDIA where he sang, spun records and played the guitar for jubilant listeners. His soulful singing intertwined with vivacious single-string leads and the distinctive, jazzy sound of the horn made King one of the world’s most famous bluesmen to date. King’s extreme popularity, due to his rousing performances and authentic enthusiasm for jazz, ultimately indicated a new direction in blues music.

We look forward to exploring the next two decades of Memphis music. How can anyone live up to the legendary B.B. King? Memphis musicians always seem to be on the move. Even moderate differences in sound escalate into entirely new movements.

Posted in: Music