SLSO Songs of America | "St. Louis Blues"


"St. Louis Blues"

by W.C. Handy

arr. Brian Holland

Stéphane Denève, piano

Stéphane Says

St. Louis is now my beloved musical home, and it was very logical for me to choose the emblematic blues of W.C. Handy for this project. I am well aware and certainly not ignoring the very difficult times America is facing right now, but as we approach a festive day, I wanted to offer a lightly spirited musical relief with this modest, but hopefully jolly, rendition. Speaking of "mood counterpoint," I hope the composer would have forgiven me for adding a tiny little joke in absurdly quoting Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and its dramatic, iconic motif.


I am a strong believer that love, music, and humor can save the world, and trying to mix them on this occasion was a lot of fun...Enjoy!


The Piece

William Christopher Handy was a major figure in the history of American music. The composer, band director, choral director, cornetist, and trumpeter was one of the first musicians to spread the sound of the blues across the country. As a young man he visited St. Louis, working as a laborer (who was cheated out of pay) and sleeping in a racetrack’s horse stall. He also met a woman who was deeply upset over her missing husband. Her lament—“My man's got a heart like a rock cast in the sea”—became the inspiration for the “St. Louis Blues.”


Handy became one of the first composers to publish blues music, elevating the style to reach an international audience. The "St. Louis Blues," first published in 1914, was a massive success during the composer's lifetime. Recorded by some of the century's top artists, from Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, to Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bing Crosby, the song has twice been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, securing Handy's legacy in American music.


The Place

Though we get a glimpse of Stéphane's home in Brussels, it's the parts of St. Louis interspersed throughout the video that give us a sense of hometown pride. Murals from adored neighborhoods like The Grove and Cherokee Street, landmark cultural sites in the Grand Center Arts District, Forest Park, and Downtown, and the familiar homes of the beloved Cardinals and Blues are testaments to St. Louis' unique spirit.

Special thanks to the Centene Charitable Foundation, the Steward Family Foundation, and World Wide Technology for their support of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.

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