This is the seven and last article in a series that highlights places to visit while in Memphis for the IBC. Jimmi Langemo of Jimmi and the Band of Souls used to spend 12 to 15 weeks of the year in Memphis doing diversity and leadership development work.
It’s hard to believe that this is the last blog. There are still so many places to talk about. But here we are. It’s time for the IBC. In fact by the time this blog gets published it will be the first day of the event. Regardless, it seemed only fitting to end with a conversation about Beale Street.
You might think, “Why write about Beale Street since we will already spend four days there?”
Because when I walk down that street, I see more than clubs, restaurants and gift shops. I see more than dancers, lovers and friends. I see the history of American Music and the history of the fight for civil rights paraded down the street. It’s a sacred place to me with a story on every corner.
I am amazed to realize that less than 100 years ago I could have listened to Memphis Minnie busking on one corner and Bukkha White on the next block. I could have heard Bessie Smith played at the Old Daisy and jug bands playing in the park. A lot has happened on this street. I wish I knew all the stories. Let me share a few . . . I’ll start on one end of Beale and work my way down.
138 – 144 Beale – Let’s begin in the Clark Hotel, which is now Blues City Café and the Blues City General Store. The Clark Hotel was a small hotel favored by jazz musicians. Count Basie used to stay here. The bands would rehearse in the rooms and party until late at night. The area was a rough area, so gamblers and prostitutes were also customers of the hotel.
163 Beale – The A. Schwab is the only surviving business still in operation from the original Beale Street. It’s fun to visit this story and drink in the history; in fact, they even still have an old soda fountain.
179 – 183 Beale – Ever wonder that the façade is on the 100 block of Beale Street? It’s the Gallina Exchange building, which was built in 1891. The building included a hotel and a saloon, which was open seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. After a fire destroyed most of the building, they bolstered the façade with steel girders. It’s now a permanent fixture on the street.
209 Beale – Battier’s Drugs. This drug store, which was open all night, operated as an unofficial emergency room for people who ran into trouble on Beale Street. The upper floors contained a hotel and a nightclub. Wet Willie’s is now in that location.
329 Beale – The Old Daisy Theater was a popular theater back in the 1930’s right up to the 1960’s. It was used to show movies and for live music performances.
340 Beale – The Monarch Club was a notorious gambling house with strong connections to the criminal underworld. It was also called “The Castle of Missing Men” because victims in violence inside could be easily transferred to the undertaker’s, which was located across the alley.
352 Beale – This is the home of W. C. Handy. This is a must see visit and tour. You get to visit the home of one of the founding fathers of the blues. (Note the house was moved from its original location which was three miles away.)
379 Beale – Beale Street was home to some of the earliest struggles for civil rights. On the far end of Beale Street stands the First Baptist Church. It was from this church that Ida B. Wells and others wrote their anti-segregationist newspaper The Free Speech and Headlight in the late 1800’s. Ida B. Wells went on to write the Red Record, an investigative journalist’s recording of lynchings in the USA. Eventually, her work led lawmakers make the terrible practice illegal.