BEHIND THE SONG: “St. Louis Blues”

“I hate to see the evening sun go down…” “St. Louis Blues” Written by W.C. Handy “I hate to see the evening sun go down…” So begins one of the most famous songs in blues history, a work often compared to Shakespeare’s Hamlet for its iconic power and influence. At the time “St. Louis Blues” first appeared, however, in September of 1914, its 40-year-old composer (later to acquire a reputation as legendary as the song itself) was anything but renowned. It’s true that William Christopher Handy had already written one hit, “Memphis Blues” (1912), but its blessings proved to be mixed. After selling rights to the song for $50, Handy was forced to watch as others reaped the profits—an early lesson in the benefits of self-publishing. Teaming with a young lyricist and bank cashier, Handy established “Pace & Handy Music Company-Publishers,” at a time when few African-American songwriters had entered the publishing field. For his next big composition, the Memphis-based Handy turned to Beale Street for inspiration. Handy’s impressions of that vibrant thoroughfare, as recounted in his memoir, Father of the Blues, offer a distinct contrast to the sleepy tourist haven Beale has become today: Chitterling joints were as crowded…

To view this content,

Join Today

or Sign In

The Benefits of Membership:

  • Subscription to the American Songwriter Print Magazine
  • Access to all Feature Magazine Content Online
  • Access to Print Edition Archives
  • Premium content in our Songwriter U section
  • Discounts on vinyl, Songwriter services, and other American Songwriter Partners
  • Exclusive access to members-only contests and giveaways
Click to Join

We've started an American Songwriter membership! Click here to learn more.