Explore St. Louis’ role in American popular music at Missouri History Museum

Performances from Grammy Award-winning rapper Murphy Lee, Red & Black Brass Band, Funky Butt Brass Band, Gentlemen of Vision step team and more

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Fate Marble's Capitol Revue, on board the Steamer Capitol, ca. 1917. From the Collections of the St. Louis Mercantile Library at the University of Missouri St Louis. "St. Louis Sound," is on display at the Missouri History Museum from Aug. 28 through Jan. 22, 2023. Admission is free.

St. Louis is often missing from America’s list of major music cities, but it shouldn’t be. The origins of America’s first four pop music genres — ragtime, the blues, jazz and country can all be traced to St. Louis.

A little over 1 hour from Rolla, residents can explore the sound of America in St. Louis. The region has produced legends who are on a first-name basis worldwide, like Ike & Tina, Miles, Chuck and Nelly. 

It’s been home to the “Velvet Bulldozer” Albert King, the “Black Venus” Josephine Baker, and the original “king” of pop music, Scott Joplin. And don’t forget world-class songwriters like John Hartford, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy and Willie Mae Ford Smith. 

Few cities anywhere can claim so many leading lights in such a wide range of styles.

Charleston Dancers, 1925. (Missouri Historical Society Collections)

On Saturday, Aug. 28, the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park will host a grand opening of St. Louis Sound, a free, 6,000-square-foot special exhibit that explores St. Louis’ vital role in the story of American popular music from the dawn of recorded sound to Nelly’s “Country Grammar.”

More than 200 historical artifacts from legendary musicians, world-class songwriters and important venues will be on display. 

“Our exciting lineup of opening weekend events gives our community the chance to come together, celebrate and connect to St. Louis’ deep musical heritage,” said Andrew Wanko, public historian and exhibit content lead for St. Louis Sound. “We’re thrilled to invite you to discovery why St. Louis is one of the most important cities for musical invention and enjoyment in the world.”

Throughout the weekend, enjoy live performances on multiple indoor and outdoor stages, hands-on activities, and presentations from the team who created the exhibit and the people who have their fingers on the pulse of the St. Louis music scene. 

Check out the full schedule below

Grammy Award-winning rapper from the platinum-selling group St. Lunatics, Murphy Lee will perform at the St. Louis Sound opening weekend.

Saturday, Aug. 28

  • Ribbon-cutting ceremony with Murphy Lee, Grammy Award-winning rapper from the platinum selling group St. Lunatics, and Missouri Historical Society President Dr. Frances Levine at 10 a.m.
  • Live concert with Marko Polo and FIRE DOG from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • Kids activities including coloring giant 2-D guitars and painting St. Louis Sound-inspired rocks to add to the STL ROCKS rock garden 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.,
  • Grab drinks and a meal from some of St. Louis’ best food trucks from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • The outdoor main stage kicks off with the Red & Back Brass Band from 2:30 p.m. to 3:15 p.m.
  • Murphy Lee and Friends take the outdoor stage from 3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • KDHX broadcasts live in the MacDermott Grand Hall from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Music My Way with DJ LadyJock is live from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Catch Traveling at the Speed of Sound with The Time Traveler G. Wiz from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday, Aug. 29

  • St. Louis Symphony Orchestra performs from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.
  • Kids activities including coloring giant 2-D guitars and painting St. Louis Sound-inspired rocks to add to the STL ROCKS rock garden from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Bobby Norfolk performs as Scott Joplin with pianist Brad Ellebrecht from 1 p.m. to 1:50 p.m.
  • National champion Gentlemen of Vision St. Louis step team performs from 2:30 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.
  • “Love that St. Louis Sound” keynote featuring the Funky Butt Brass Band and local authors Amanda Doyle and Steve Pick from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Artifacts on display include: 

Artifacts on display include a dress worn by Tina Turner on the Tonight Show. Photograph by unknown, 1971.
  • The St. Louis tinfoil, recorded by St. Louisan Thomas Mason in 1878 on a phonograph (a device recently invented by Thomas Edison), is the oldest playable recording of an American voice and the earliest known recording of a musical performance. In March 2021, the Library of Congress announced the “St. Louis tinfoil” is one of 25 “audio treasures worthy of preservation for all time” that will be inducted into their National Recording Registry. 

  • Costumes from Treemonisha, ragtime legend Scott Joplin’s ill-fated opera.
 A dress and original theatre artifact of entertainer, French resistance agent, and civil rights activist Josephine Baker. 

  • Dress worn by Tina Turner on the Tonight Show. 
  • 
Artifacts from the Club Imperial, which hosted Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm and televised dance shows.  
  • Guitars belonging to Chuck Berry, Jay Farrar, Jeff Tweedy, Albert King, and Mel Bay, who has taught millions to play the guitar. 

  • Trumpets of Miles Davis and Clark Terry.
  • Stage clothing of legendary artists like Little Milton, Luther Ingram and the 5th Dimension.
  • The piano of Henry Townsend, the St. Louis Blues Legend whose recordings span nine consecutive decades.
  • Outfits from gospel stars David Peaston and Willie Mae Ford Smith.  
  • Fontella Bass’s gold record and Grammy nomination for “Rescue Me.” 
  • Artifacts from Mississippi Nights, including the stage floor that was played on by everyone from Kenny G to Nirvana.  
  • 
Stage clothing of The Welders, St. Louis’s 1970s all-female punk band.  

  • Artifacts from Bob Heil, who built sound systems for The Who and invented the Talkbox. 
  • 
A drum that symbolizes the racial divide in St. Louis’s 1920s jazz scene. 
  • 
Pieces from Gaslight Square, St. Louis’s nightlife center of the 1960s. 

The Missouri History Museum will offer a wide range of exhibit-related programming throughout the duration of the exhibit, including the St. Louis Sound: LIVE series of free, live performances relating to the many artists featured in the exhibit. St. Louis just can’t stay quiet. No matter the genre, style, or musical moment, this city has a huge story to tell.  

St. Louis Sound is open at the Missouri History Museum from Aug. 28 through Jan. 22, 2023. Admission is free. The Missouri History Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday. JSM Charitable Trust is the Presenting Sponsor.