Arts & Culture

Weekend Agenda: National Blues Museum Opens

Immerse yourself in the blues at a new museum in St. Louis

On Saturday, April 2, the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, finally opens its doors to the public.

photo: Courtesy of the National Blues Museum

Muddy Waters likeness inside the museum

The sprawling 23,000-square-foot space is packed with interactive exhibits and memorabilia that span the genre’s rich history and diverse styles. Throughout the years, St. Louis has been home to such blues influenced musicians as W.C. Handy, Henry “Mule” Townsend, Miles Davis, Ike and Tina Turner, Little Milton, and Chuck Berry, among others. The new museum pays homage to all those sounds and more.

Five reasons we’re excited to visit:

1. Be a blues musician for the day. “The blues mean something different to everyone,” says museum director Dion Brown, “which is why this museum is so heavily interactive.” It’s a 21st century musical exploration that begins with a login. Plug your email into a kiosk the start of the museum to write your own blues lyric. You don’t have to be a wordsmith or a musician, though. The computer program will provide suggested topics and word choices to help out even the most tone deaf. Move through the exhibit halls and by logging in with your email at various workstations you can add prerecorded guitar, harmonica, and piano lines to the lyric you created when you entered the museum. You can also learn to play the washboard or the spoons and then bang out a few riffs alongside digital street performers.

photo: Courtesy of the National Blues Museum

Interactive jug band exhibit.

2. Try your hand at producing. Backed by Nashville-based singer-songwriter and producer Jack White, the Mix it Up Experience lets you play with various blues styles, blending sounds to create your own composition. When you’re happy with the result, you can create your own cover art and email yourself an mp3.

3. Hear from the artists themselves. A new traveling exhibit “Blues @ Home: Mississippi’s Living Blues Legends” pairs thirty-one paintings of Mississippi-based musicians with oral histories from each subject, including David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Bobby Rush, and the late B.B. King.

photo: Courtesy of the National Blues Museum

Suitcases representing the artists who left the South during the Great Migration.

4. No matter your musical preferences, there’s something here for everyone. Legend has it that W.C. Handy penned “St. Louis Blues,” one of the genre’s most famous tracks, while sitting on the city’s riverfront. And though the St. Louis blues get its share of the spotlight, so do the jazz-inflected Memphis blues, the smooth soulful Delta blues, the grittier percussion-heavy Hill Country blues, and more. You’ll also discover the roots of jazz, country, R&B, and hip-hop here.

photo: Courtesy of the National Blues Museum

Jim McClaren’s collection of 900+ harmonicas.

5. Oh, and there’s live music, too. Because there is no better way to experience the blues than to hear it first-hand, the museum built a one-hundred-seat theater that will host touring musicians with stops in St. Louis as well as regular shows.

To celebrate the opening, we put together a playlist featuring eight legendary musicians highlighted in the museum.