Austin-based performance artist Mobley graced The Demo with a vivacious display of song and style on Thursday night, April 28.

Music came naturally to Henry St. Claire Fredericks, Jr. The artist—now known as Taj Mahal—grew up with a wide array of music. His father was a jazz pianist, his mother was a gospel singer.

A four-band roster at the Demo on Friday night drew talent from both sides of the Mississippi.

Current exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, produced by the Teens Make History program, delves into the history of the contentious St. Louis question -- "Where did you go to high school?" -- and emerges with a deeper account of the high school experience.

 If there is one thing all St. Louisans have in common it's the famous "St. Louis question." We've all been asked, "Where did you go to high school?" probably more than our fair share of times. The St. Louis question is rooted in a myriad of stereotypes; the answer supposedly says something specific about our religious and political affiliations, wealth, and even intelligence. For many St. Louisans, the question has transformed into a statement that asks about so much more than just the name of a school. For others, the question is simply a way to form connections. The Missouri History Museum's current installation -- Where Did You Go to High School? -- explores the history and weight of that infamous seven-word question. Instead of posing the question to highlight social divides among St. Louisans, the exhibit investigates the question in order to uncover a shared history, forging connections between city residents along threads of common high school experiences.

And who better to talk about high schools than high schoolers themselves? Since May 2015, the Teens Make History exhibitors have worked alongside Museum staff to curate and design the entire exhibit. Established in 2007, the Teens Make History program is a work-based learning program at the Museum that places a focus on the development of communication, research, writing, and confidence skills in underserved local high school students. Where Did You Go to High School? is only the second exhibit to be produced entirely by teens at the Museum and the program is the recipient of the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

The gallery installation largely focuses on memories of high school in St. Louis captured on camera, including historic photographs of school buildings, portraits of notable teachers, and snapshots of all the fun times of high school dominate the atrium. One feature highlights the architectural diversity of St. Louis schools, noting that the variance in building design reflects particular cultural values of the surrounding neighborhood. An entire wall of the gallery is dedicated to high school traditions, extracurricular activities, and -- a St. Louis favorite -- sports. The gallery takes the viewer back to the high-energy crowd at a 1971 Vashon vs. Rockhurst high school basketball game, to a May Day ceremony at Visitation Academy, and even to Coyle High School prom, perhaps the most iconic (and anticipated) high school experience. The exhibit also offers a chance to examine Prom (1947-1973), a magazine published just for St. Louis high school students that spread local high school gossip and inside jokes, advertised school events, and showed off students' latest accomplishments.

While the magazine is notorious as the reputed founder of the St. Louis question, its roots actually reach all the way back to the beginning of St. Louis high schools. In fact, high school has been a question on the minds of many St. Louisans throughout our city's history. The exhibit explores the various debates over education that St. Louis citizens have been engaging in over the past 150 years. In one 1877 St. Louis Post Dispatch article, the author questioned whether taxpayers should even support public education. "Should the High School be abolished?" the headline asked. In an interactive portion of the exhibition, visitors are invited to guess the year various newspaper headlines debating education appeared in print. As it turns out, for instance, St. Louis principals have been urging parents not to allow their students to drive to school since the 1920s.

In the spirit of any great high school, the exhibit offers lots of ways for museumgoers to be involved. Visitors can write the name of their high schools on a chalkboard, share their most memorable high school experiences in a composition notebook, and even test their knowledge by taking an 1854 high school entrance examination. On one wall, the exhibit asks if the answer to the St. Louis question defines who we are as individuals, inviting visitors to post their response on a sticky note. One visitor captured the essence of the exhibit perfectly: "It is a part of who I am, but it does not define what my life is like."

Where Did You Go to High School? raises important questions about stereotypes in and about St. Louis, debunking the myths of our city's schools by highlighting the experiences of high school that we all share. The exhibit leaves visitors with the feeling that high school is about so much more than a short answer to a loaded question. It's about the influence of dedicated teachers, the community of classmates, and the memories of hard work and great times.

Where Did You Go to High School? is open now through July 17 in the Bank of America Atrium at the Missouri History Museum. To accompany the gallery installation, the Teens Make History Players wrote an original play based on their own high school experiences. "Where Did You Go to High School?" is performed every Saturday morning at 11:30 am through April in the Currents gallery of the Museum.

What began as a dream five years ago finally became a reality this Saturday morning when the National Blues Museum on Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis opened its doors to the public for the first time.

What began as a dream five years ago finally became a reality this Saturday morning when the National Blues Museum on Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis opened its doors to the public for the first time.

Why St. Louis? This was a question asked at a special media preview event on Thursday. After all, there are other cities like Memphis, Chicago or Kansas City that could easily claim as much, if not more, of a piece of the history of America's own musical art form.

Museum board chair and blues musician Robert Endicott (also a partner at Bryan Cave, LLP) noted, "St. Louis is on the path of the blues' Great Migration north. Every stop along the way, the musicians put their own stamp on it -- there's a Chicago style, a Memphis style. We're right in the middle of that pathway, so it makes sense for us to tie it together. But as to 'why here?' -- no one had done it -- so we decided to do it."

The team at the helm of the museum has an appropriately impressive background. Founding Executive Director Dion Brown was recruited from Indianola, Mississippi, where he served as the Executive Director of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretative Center. Interpretive Manager Jacqueline K. Dace, responsible for the museum's educational programming, formerly served as Project Manager for the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum. A St. Louis native and Webster University graduate, Dace returned home for the opportunity.

The museum is beautifully designed by San Francisco-based Gallagher &Associates, an international museum design firm with a striking resume of projects including The Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, the Motown Museum in Detroit, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among others. Their expertise was augmented by creative advisor, Robert Santelli, Executive Director of the Grammy Museum.

As guests enter the 23,000 square-foot exhibit space, they can enjoy a brief film on the history of the blues and its impact on American music, narrated by none other than Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman. The exhibition moves chronologically through the earliest roots of blues music, from the cotton fields of the Deep South, to its Great Migration north from the Mississippi Delta and the evolution of the form into modern blues and rock 'n' roll. Some highlights include a special section on Women in the Blues, a case of artifacts from St. Louis' own icon Chuck Berry, as well as artifacts from legend B.B. King, including his infamous guitar, Lucille.

In addition to history and artifacts, the museum incorporates technology for some fun, interactive components including a virtual jug band that visitors can join and "play in," as well as the opportunity to build their own blues song as they move through the exhibit, adding lyrics and instrumentation at various stations, culminating in a final "Mix It Up" room, donated by rocker Jack White, where effects and final touches can be added to the song before an MP3 is sent to the visitor's email.

A traveling exhibition room complements the permanent exhibits, opening with "Blues @ Home: Mississippi's Living Blues Legends," an interactive portrait series by artist H.C. Porter. Her 31 vibrant paintings of Mississippi-based blues artists are paired with oral histories from each subject.

Though only just opened to the public, several prominent blues musicians featured in the exhibit have already visited with a positive response. Brown says, "Bonnie Raitt was here a couple Fridays ago and she was just in awe of it. So much so that, even at her concert that night, she continued talking about St. Louis and how proud St. Louis should be for having the museum here. Bobby Rush has come to the museum at least three times and he was sitting in front of the case where his artifacts are paired with B.B. King's and he got very emotional."

The museum states its mission is "to be the premier entertainment and educational resource focusing on the Blues as the foundation of American music." Dace hopes many of the planned live music performances will be used to educate the public further on the style and its history.

Board member Scott McCuaig, former President and Co-Chief Operating Officer of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, notes, "If I had one thing I'd like to see as an accomplishment of the museum, it's that, in the next five years, every student in St. Louis, by the time they reach high school, has already been here -- whether its their history class that brings them through so they understand the migration, or it's their music class that brings them through so they get an appreciation for this style of music. But every kid in St. Louis should come through here on a field trip."

A large venue with a raised and lighted stage, complete with a full back line will host live music performances on a regular basis, including both local and national blues acts. Brown says that by Memorial Day weekend they hope to launch live music on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The venue, connected to the brand new Sugarfire Smoke House BBQ restaurant, is also available to rent for private events.

Saturday's grand opening kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony with the Normandy High School Marching band leading a procession down Sixth street and Washington Avenue to the front door of the museum. Mayor Francis Slay was on hand along with the museum's leadership to officially cut the ribbon before the doors open. For more information and regular updates on events and exhibits, visit the National Blues Museum's website.  

Click below to see the complete photos of the event by Bill Motchan.

National Blues Museum in St. Louis

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