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American singer Bessie Smith, known as the Empress of the Blues, circa 1935.
American singer Bessie Smith, known as the Empress of the Blues, circa 1935. Three Lions/Getty Images
In 1914, W.C. Handy, a middle-class African American, wrote "St. Louis Blues." It came at a time when Tin Pan Alley's popular songs began to fuse with folklore to explore the blues, the form that led to the full-fledged birth of American jazz.
NPR's Margaret Howze reports on the song's background and its definitive 1925 recording by Bessie Smith, with cornet accompaniment by Louis Armstrong.