“St. Louis Blues” was published by W.C. Handy in 1914. It was not the first blues song, as is sometimes asserted, nor is Handy the “Father of the Blues,” as is more frequently asserted. The blues is elemental, an veritable axiom upon which American popular song rests, so it can have no such thing as a “father.” But it is a great tune, and perhaps the 20th-century standard. Notes at Art of the Mix contain some interesting facts, such as, “It was first performed publicly by an unknown female impersonator,” and, “in the 1930s when Ethiopia was invaded by Italy, the Ethiopians adopted it as their battle hymn.” I don’t know what battle-hymns normally sound like in Ethiopia, but I wouldn’t immediately think of a song with the famous lyric, “I hate to see that evening sun go down.”
Notable versions of the St. Louis Blues have been recorded by Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Bob Wills, and John Fahey. Here are two of my favorite versions, one by John Kirby and His Orchestra, and one by the great Sicilian trumpeter and vocalist Louis Prima.