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Catalog Data

Directed by:
Dudley Murphy, American, 1897 - 1968  Search this
Written by:
Dudley Murphy, American, 1897 - 1968  Search this
Produced by:
W. C. Handy, American, 1873 - 1958  Search this
Subject of:
Bessie Smith, American, 1894 - 1937  Search this
Isabel Powell, American, 1908 - 2007  Search this
Edgar Connor, American, 1893 - 1934  Search this
Johnny Lee Jr., American, 1898 - 1965  Search this
Hall Johnson, American, 1888 - 1970  Search this
Hall Johnson Choir, American, founded 1925  Search this
James Price Johnson, American, 1894 - 1955  Search this
Alex Lovejoy, American, 1893 - 1946  Search this
Owned by:
Pearl Bowser, American, 1931 - 2023  Search this
acetate film
Duration: 15 Minutes
Length (Film): 550 Feet
sound films
black-and-white films (visual works)
short subjects
16mm (photographic film size)
Place filmed:
Astoria, Queens, New York City, New York, United States, North and Central America
"St. Louis Blues" is a 1929 short film directed by Dudley Murphy and starring Bessie Smith. The film is based upon Smith's performance of the blues standard, "St. Louis Blues" and is the only footage of her known to exist. The film was added to the National Film Registry in 2006.
A short musical film with the title St. Louis Blues. It consists of a single reel of black-and-white 16mm acetate film with optical sound. The film begins with a group of men arguing over a game of craps in the hallway of a building. A Janitor excoriates them for making a mess but is pacified with a small amount of money. A man named Jimmy and an unidentified woman approach the group and Jimmy joins the game. After winning a round, Jimmy and the woman enter an apartment in the building. The woman asks Jimmy what would happen if his significant other, Bessie, walked in and he tells her to not worry about it before embracing her romantically. The film cuts back to the hallway where Bessie has entered the building; the gathered crowd quiets as she enters. Upon going into her apartment, she discovers Jimmy and the woman; she immediately attacks the woman and kicks her out the apartment. Bessie then pleads with Jimmy not to leave her, but to no avail. Jimmy shoves her to the ground before exiting the apartment with his suitcase. Bessie begins singing "The St. Louis Blues" while seated on the floor. The film transitions to a nightclub where Bessie continues to sing with the accompaniment of a band and chorus while leaning against the bar. The patrons and staff of the club begin dancing during an upbeat instrumental interlude. Jimmy enters the club to the applause of the crowd and performs a brief tap dance routine. He calls to Bessie and the two embrace happily before dancing together. At the conclusion of the dance, Jimmy exits the club and Bessie sadly returns to the bar. She again sings "The St. Louis Blues" as the film draws to a close.
African American  Search this
Blues (Music)  Search this
Film  Search this
Jazz (Music)  Search this
Musical films  Search this
Credit Line:
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Pearl Bowser
Object number:
Restrictions & Rights:
Unknown - Restrictions Possible
Rights assessment and proper usage is the responsibility of the user.
See more items in:
National Museum of African American History and Culture Collection
Collection title:
Pearl Bowser Collection
Media Arts-Film and Video
Data Source:
National Museum of African American History and Culture