Original Memphis: Beale Street

bealestreet.com | historic photos retrieved from bealestreet.com


We’d love to say that Beale Street has always been a hot bed of Memphis fun. The truth is, though, that it was on its deathbed in the late 1960s. Many of the original buildings had been bulldozed, and only one business that was an original (A. Schwab’s which opened in the mid-1800s) was still in business.

A. Schwabs store


That was a far cry from the turn of the 20th century when it served as a haven for African Americans migrating from small towns. Legendary greats such as W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Willie Mitchell and Isaac Hayes have showcased their talents on Beale.

Beale Street’s heyday was in the roaring 20s, when it took on a carnival atmosphere. The booming nightclubs, theaters, restaurants, stores, pawnshops and hot music thrived alongside gambling, drinking, prostitution, murder and voodoo.

In the early evenings, boxback suits and Stetson hats mingled with overalls.For over 150 years, Beale Street has hosted blues music and entertainment. Beale played a pivotal role in branding Memphis as one of the most musically rich cities in the world, and was prominent in hosting some of the first black business owners in the south. In between, the street was host to the birth of blues music, the civil rights movement, rock ‘n’ roll, racks of ribs and bands.

When things began to fall apart, community involvement helped to create a new vision for the old district by forming a management company that would breathe life back into the world’s most well-known street.

a 1960s photo from boarded up Beale


Thanks to the Herculean restoration efforts of Beale Street Management Company, today’s tourists can find just about any indulgence to suit their taste. There’s music, of course, but not just Blues.

Thousands of bands, fans, major blues players, entertainers and reporters flock to Beale, and the street has once again taken on a party-central atmosphere, colliding a searing helping of original Memphis soul with dozens of different styles, takes and interpretations of hundreds of artist’s blues music and dedication.

From the top of the walk and The Orpheum Theatre’s Broadway picks, to the eastern end and the live vibe at the New Daisy Theater, Beale writhes on just about any night, especially Saturday, with music from many genres. Music that feels like an old pair of your favorite shoes: comfortable, sturdy, well worn, and personal.

Beale Street heyday 1920s parade


Most of the buildings that exist on Beale are the same buildings that have been frequented by the great many music lovers and great musicians that came in the 100 years before, providing a proprietary sense of history to the legendary street.

Find more history and important information for visitors at bealestreet.com.