Music and More on Beale Street

In the post-Civil War years, Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., became a societal phenomenon for black America.BEALE_STREET_COVER1

What would one day be the birthplace of blues and rock ‘n’ roll, Beale was first and foremost renowned as a boozy hot spot of sex, song, gambling and anything that would rate high on the vice charts, but amid the mayhem, there were incredible examples of black progress and entrepreneurship.

In his just-published Beale Street Dynasty (Norton), author Preston Lauterbach brilliantly captures the multigenerational story of the Church family, whose patriarch Robert — allegedly once a mixed-race slave owned by his white father — would go on to become the south’s first “black millionaire” through his business acumen and network of saloons, gambling halls and brothels.

Power trio: Robert Church (left), W.C. Handy and Lt. George W. Lee outside Church and Lee's offices where Handy composed "St. Louis Blues."Memphis & Shelby County Room Photograph Collection

Power trio: Robert Church, Jr. (left), W.C. Handy and Lt. George W. Lee outside Church and Lee’s offices where Handy composed “St. Louis Blues.” (Memphis & Shelby County Room Photograph Collection)

Lauterbach discussed the book on the April 4 edition of Greasy Tracks.To listen to the feature, here’s Hour 1, Hour 2 and the playlist.

Music by Memphis artists from the early 1900s is featured throughout as well as tracks by these musicians covered by other groups.

Similar to his equally well-researched and superbly delivered The Chitlin’ Circuit: And The Road To Rock ‘n’ Roll (Norton) in 2012, Lauterbach’s foray into the fascinating history of Beale Street takes all sorts of twists and turns, has no shortage of rouges and ruffians, some who may be considered higher on the social ladder than the oft-powerful, yet usually repugnant politicians.

Robert Church was the first major patron of black culture and the catalyst for the construction of Church’s Park and Auditorium, what he deemed as his “resort for the colored people.” His son, Robert Jr., was an ardent supporter of the iconic musician, composer and bandleader, W.C. Handy who would become known as “The Father of the Blues.”

W.C. Handy, in the center rear with trumpet, was considered one of the premier bandleaders and composers.

Father of the Blues: W.C. Handy, in the center rear with trumpet, was considered one of the nation’s premier bandleaders and composers. He is shown with his Orchestra of Memphis in 1918.

Greasy Tracks, which airs Saturdays 3:30-5:30 p.m., is the longest-running soul and blues show in Connecticut.

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