Friday, June 26, 2009

Devil At The Confluence

 Kevin Belford is an artist in St Louis, Missouri. After graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute, he has spent most of his career as a professional freelance illustrator.

His work in advertising, corporate art and editorial illustration has been published and exhibited locally and internationally. In St Louis, he is well known for his work in the print media--including The Sporting News, the St Louis Post Dispatch, St Louis magazine, and for years of covers of the Riverfront Times.

 He has produced a number of books including: The Ballpark Book, for The Sporting News, and the children’s books: Amazing Arthur Ashe, Spirit Of A Champion and Twist Of Fate--The Miracle Horse Of Longmeadow Ranch, as well as having done numerous interior illustrations and covers for longer works.

 The St Louis Blues Legends project began as a painting series to document the forgotten blues legends of the city.  However,after completing his initial research, Belford found that many area blues artists had been forgotten and that information on their part of the city’s history was never completely collected and preserved. Only a paragraph or two 

that mentioned St. Louis and its rich history of the blues and jazz musical genres could be found in printed works.

  So, Belford began a search of books, oral histories, archives, journals, discontinued magazines, printed interviews, genealogical resources, city records, recording company logs and cemetery books to compile a complete list of the pre-war recorded blues and jazz musicians of St. Louis and their songs.

 I realized that the availability and accuracy of the information was a problem with earlier attempts at a blues history for the area. The original artists are long gone, and they left little more than their blues recordings. I searched primary sources and public records and interviewed the few surviving blues artists. There is information available for ragtime and some of the early rock and roll that happened here, but the early blues of St Louis have never been fully documented. My idea was to show the original blues artists - who they were and what they did, so that fans could know about the them and non-fans could be led to discover their music.

 I hope the book can educate and can raise awareness of the fact that St Louis is the home of the blues -- the blues that became rhythm and blues and then rock and roll and eventually evolved into our current music styles. I hope that it helps people discover that St. Louis musicians have consistently been a part of every major trend in American music, and that it was that same way with the blues and jazz legends of the 1920s and 30s.  We sometimes overlook or take for granted the cultural treasures in our own back yard, yet no other area or city has the rich history and heritage for quality that St Louis has.

 A wonderful part of the blues is the lore and mythology, and I didn’t want to water down any of that. Music is, after all, entertainment, and I wanted the design and art of my book to mirror that intent, but another purpose has always been to commemorate and honor St Louis musicians and their music. 

 So, my first decision was to do everything as accurately as possible: to gather the facts about the musicians, the locations where they worked and lived and to place them and their songs within the context of the history of the city and the times. 

I did not seek to answer the usual question of "Where were the blues born?"  Instead, I wanted to answer the question “What blues were born in St Louis?”  

The blues are unique as a musical style. They are purely American, yet the themes are multicultural. They are one of a number of early transitional styles of American music and so they evolved from the best of what came before them. 

The blues were defined by the artists who made them simply as music inspired by sadness or hard times. Other definitions and categories came later and were written by fans and surveyors of the art form. The blues are also the original street music -- by the people and for the people. Their music had its day, and popular music moved on. Yet audiences and fans still revive them every few years. And each revisiting finds the music charmingly honest and contemporarily relevant.

Kevin Belford, 2009.


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