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The True Story of the Home of the Blues

Robert Odell, Jr. is the senior video editor for the Take Me Back to Beale project, a 100-year chronicle of Beale Street History.

The story that covers one hundred years (1901-2001) of blues,  jazz, and culture on historic Beale Street is reenacted in the docudrama Take Me Back to Beale.

The story that covers one hundred years (1901-2001) of blues, jazz, and culture on historic Beale Street is reenacted in the docudrama Take Me Back to Beale.

The Home of the Blues

Memphis is called "The Home of the Blues." The blues lived out its infancy and enjoyed the comfort of home, on Beale Street, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Take Me Back to Beale makes Beale Street history come to life creatively and tastefully. The docudrama trilogy spans one hundred years (1901-2001) of real Beale Street history.

Letter Carriers Band N.A.L.C. Branch No. 27.  Armistice Parade. November 24, 1924.  Memphis, TN on historic Beale Street

Letter Carriers Band N.A.L.C. Branch No. 27. Armistice Parade. November 24, 1924. Memphis, TN on historic Beale Street

Docudrama

The movie Take Me Back to Beale is a docudrama. A docudrama is a documentary drama that features dramatized reenactments of actual events.

Features Over Seventy Students

Take Me Back to Beale is written and directed by Carolyn Yancy-Gunn. It features over seventy students and graduates of Carolyn's Finishing Academy. The academy is a center for the performing arts and teaches charm and etiquette.

Nostalgic Areas

The director chose to film the majority of the docudrama on location in nostalgic areas in Memphis. The filming sites were incredibly similar to the different eras of Beale Street portrayed in the movie.

Produced in Three Parts

Produced in three parts called "books," each section of the film represents a distinct period of real Beale Street history.

  • BOOK I (Beale Street 1901-1936)
  • BOOK II (Beale Street 1936-1952)
  • BOOK III (Beale Street 1952-2001)


Fictionalized Plot

Fiction weaves the plot of Take Me Back to Beale within the dramatic fabric of actual history. CFA graduate Arthur Smith portrays the icon, W.C. Handy, while Tony Patterson, also a CFA graduate, plays the fictional character, Hank.

In the docudrama, which is also a trilogy, the spirit of W.C. Handy enters his statue in Handy Park on Beale Street. After entering the figure, the essence of Handy takes Hank, a lazy construction worker, working on the renovation of Beale Street in 1981, on a tour of Beale Street. The journey spans over one hundred years of Beale Street History. Hank experiences the saloons, the bawdy houses, the blues, and the sultry sounds of jazz. He then bears witness to the trials of every dream-filled hopeful that ever came through Beale.

Take Me Back to Beale weaves the actual history of Beale Street within the fabric of a fictionalized plot.  CFA graduate Arthur Smith (suited) portrays the icon W.C. Handy and graduate Tony Patterson (white T-shirt) plays the character, Hank.

Take Me Back to Beale weaves the actual history of Beale Street within the fabric of a fictionalized plot. CFA graduate Arthur Smith (suited) portrays the icon W.C. Handy and graduate Tony Patterson (white T-shirt) plays the character, Hank.

Subtitles Point to Events

The subtitles of each book (era) further emphasize the fictional aspect of the trilogy. The captions point to events that occur before, during, and after, the fictional character, Hank visits a Beale Street hoodoo lady in the 1940s.

  • BOOK I (Before The Red Ball)
  • BOOK II (During The Red Ball)
  • BOOK III (After The Red Ball)

As Hank's visit with the hoodoo lady comes to an end, she places a red, good luck ball around his neck. She then gives Hank the harrowing instructions, "As long as you wear this red ... luck ball, the renovation of Beale will be successful."

The subtitles of the trilogy, Take Me Back to Beale, describe what happens before, during, and after the character, Hank, visits a Beale Street hoodoo lady in the 1940s.

The subtitles of the trilogy, Take Me Back to Beale, describe what happens before, during, and after the character, Hank, visits a Beale Street hoodoo lady in the 1940s.

Professionally Portrayed

Professional portrayals of authentic Beale Street culture and celebrities inundate the docudrama. Carolyn's Finishing Academy students and graduates, who make up the cast, provide an entertaining and colorful twist to the study of history. Many of the graduates perform more than one role in the film. The students deserve a "pat on the back" for diligently studying, ahead of time, each character that they portray. Most of them provided their costumes and makeup themselves and are virtually indistinguishable from one role to the next.

Location Logistics

CFA Productions Inc., the production arm of Carolyn's Finishing Academy, handled location logistics. Hollywood productions such as The Firm, Hustle and Flow, Black Snake Moan, and Walk The Line used some of the same areas for filming. The excellent filming locations, along with the enthusiastic student participation, serve as invaluable assets for the modestly, budgeted production. Take Me Back to Beale offers the viewer a well-trained cast, an evocative and creative storyline, and preeminent historical content.

Beale Street 1901-1936

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I), Bessie Smith accosts a male who jilted her.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I), Bessie Smith accosts a male who jilted her.

Beale Street Dancers in the early 1900s are tastefully portrayed in Book I of Take Me Back to Beale

Beale Street Dancers in the early 1900s are tastefully portrayed in Book I of Take Me Back to Beale

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) depicts a 1920s Beale Street saloon.  Memphis Minnie can be seen performing in the background.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) depicts a 1920s Beale Street saloon. Memphis Minnie can be seen performing in the background.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) depicts Memphis Minnie performing on Beale Street in the 1920s.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) depicts Memphis Minnie performing on Beale Street in the 1920s.

In Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) Ma'Rainey creates a fuss on a 1936 Beale Street Saturday.

In Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) Ma'Rainey creates a fuss on a 1936 Beale Street Saturday.

Book I Celebrity Depictions

  • W.C. Handy
  • Memphis Minnie
  • Bessie Smith
  • Ma' Rainey

1936 Beale Street Shoppers

Take Me Back to Beale  (Book I) shows shoppers on Beale Street in a 1936 setting.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) shows shoppers on Beale Street in a 1936 setting.

Book I Historical Sites and Events

  • The Hole In The Wall Night Club
  • Hammitt Ashford Saloon
  • Pee Wee's Saloon
  • The Monarch Club
  • The Cotton Carnival Parade
  • 1936 Cotton Makers Jubilee Festival
  • Crowning of The First Cotton Makers Jubilee King and Queen
  • Beale Street Markets
  • Doctors & Lawyers Offices of Beale Street
Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) reveals that back room gambling was a common occurrence in Beale Street Saloons during the early 1900s.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book I) reveals that back room gambling was a common occurrence in Beale Street Saloons during the early 1900s.

Book II Celebrity Depictions

  • Duke Ellington
  • Bobbie Blue Bland
  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • B.B. King
  • Elvis Presley
  • Ukulele Ike
  • Piano Red
  • Nat D. Williams
  • Rufus Thomas
  • The Brown Skin Models


Beale Street in the 1940s

Beale Street was vibrant and filled with music as seen in this 1940s depiction from Book II of Take Me Back to Beale.

Beale Street was vibrant and filled with music as seen in this 1940s depiction from Book II of Take Me Back to Beale.

A Beale Street hoodooist as seen in Book II of Take Me Back to Beale.

A Beale Street hoodooist as seen in Book II of Take Me Back to Beale.

Book II Historical Sites and Events

  • Beale Street Hoo Doist
  • The Hippodrome
  • Sun Beam Mitchell's Club
  • Beale Street Pawn Shops
  • Pace and Handy Music
  • The Grey Mule Club
  • Lansky Brothers
  • The Harlem House
  • The Palace Theater

Book III Celebrity Depictions

  • Muddy Waters
  • Isaac Hayes
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

Muddy Waters in the 1950s (Reenactment)

Take Me Back to Beale (Book III) shows the legendary Muddy Waters on Beale Street.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book III) shows the legendary Muddy Waters on Beale Street.

Book III Historical Sites and Events

  • First Baptist Beale
  • The New Daisy Theater
  • The Malco Theater
  • Foote Homes
  • Robert Henry's Pool Hall

Isaac Hayes at First Baptist Beale (Reenactment)

Take Me Back to Beale (Book III) portrays Isaac Hayes singing gospel music.

Take Me Back to Beale (Book III) portrays Isaac Hayes singing gospel music.

A Welcomed Choice

Each book (part) of the Take Me Back to Beale trilogy averages around ninety minutes. The whole series is approximately two hundred seventy minutes. Part one of the trilogy has achieved accolades for standing room only attendance at festivals and private showings. Cutting the project to one movie of around one hundred twenty minutes was an option. Fortunately, viewers can still see the many classical settings and the informative dialogue that the three films offer. The decision to make a trilogy out of the production rather than cutting it down was a welcomed choice that the director made.

This 1939 photo of Rex Billiard Hall for Colored portrays the culture of early 1900s Beale Street, which is reenacted in the docudrama Take Me Back to Beale.

This 1939 photo of Rex Billiard Hall for Colored portrays the culture of early 1900s Beale Street, which is reenacted in the docudrama Take Me Back to Beale.

This 1974 photo of Beale Street was taken six years before the renovation of Beale Street began in 1980.

This 1974 photo of Beale Street was taken six years before the renovation of Beale Street began in 1980.

The Monarch Club at 340 Beale was known for gambling and violence.  In the early 1900s, it was called "The Castle of Missing Men" because many times gamblers who went in came up missing.

The Monarch Club at 340 Beale was known for gambling and violence. In the early 1900s, it was called "The Castle of Missing Men" because many times gamblers who went in came up missing.

Did You Know?

Beale Street, Memphis, Tennessee

Festival Honors

  • Indie-Memphis Film Festival Induction
  • Showing at the Muvico Theaters in Peabody Place; Memphis, Tennessee
  • Media Co-op Film Festival in Memphis, Tennessee
  • Showing at the Congo Theater; Memphis, Tennessee

Audience Attendance

  • Indie-Memphis Festival honorable mention for "standing-room-only" audience attendance
  • Media Co-op Film Festival in Memphis, Tennessee, "standing-room-only."
  • Showing at the Congo Theater in Memphis, Tennessee, "standing-room-only."

Well Worth the Time

Take Me Back to Beale offers a tasteful reenactment of actual Beale Street History. Even though it is an independent film with a modest budget, the creative and colorful storyline, the accuracy of its content, and the professionalism of the cast make the film well worth the time to view it.

Take Me Back To Beale, Dir. Carolyn Yancy-Gunn. Edited by Robert Odell, Jr. Perfs. Arthur Smith, Tony Patterson, CFA Graduates. DVD. CFA Productions, Inc. Archives

© 2015 Robert Odell Jr

Comments

Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on May 14, 2020:

Thank you so much for your interest and for reading the article. Movie clips and information can be found on YouTube under the title "Take Me Back to Beale".

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on May 14, 2020:

This looks fascinating!

Can you link me to how I can get this doco?

I'm a "white cat" in Australia and play boogie woogie and blues a lot on piano. I'm a boogie nut and just love any historical info about black music

Robert Odell Jr (author) from Memphis, Tennessee on May 13, 2020:

Thank you for your comment on "The True Story of the Home of the Blues."

Andrew Petrou from Brisbane on December 27, 2017:

All modern music began in these places. God bless black music.

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