In 1929, Kenneth W. Adams and W.C. Handy wrote a short film treatment based on Handy’s famous song “St. Louis Blues” and convinced the film studio RCA Phototone of the idea of making a short film.
Phototone hired Dudley Murphy (director of the 1924 French avante garde classic Le Ballet Mechanique!) to direct a two-reel short to be shown before the featured attraction, much the same way newsreels and cartoons where throw in as an added attraction before films in those days. At W.C. Handy’s suggestion, Bessie Smith was picked to be the star of the film. Bessie had scored a huge hit in 1925 with her recording of “St. Louis Blues”, which had featured Louis Armstrong on cornet.
The film was shot in June of 1929 in Astoria, Long Island and was shown between the years 1929 to 1932. It was Bessie Smith‘s only film appearance.
The film features a top notch Jazz band that includes, James P. Johnson on piano, Thomas Morris and Joe Smith on cornet, as well as the Hall Johnson Choir. The film had an all African American cast. The co-stars were dancer/actor Jimmy Mordecai as Bessie’s good for nothing boyfriend and Isabel Washington Powell as the other woman.
St. Louis Blues