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In 1903, Mayor Thornton was looking for a music teacher for his Knights of Pythias Band and called Tuskegee Institute to talk to his friend, Booker T. Mayor Thornton contacted Handy, and Memphis became the home of the musician who created the "Blues on Beale Street". In 1934, local community leader George Washington Lee authored Beale Street: Where the Blues Began; the first book by a black author to be advertised in the Book-of-the-Month Club News. Swingler, editor of the Memphis World Newspaper, a Negro newspaper, in an effort to increase circulation, conceived the idea of a "Mayor of Beale St.," having readers vote for the person of their choice.
Washington, who recommended a trumpet player in Clarksdale, Mississippi named W. Mayor Thornton and his three sons also played in Handy's band. Matthew Thornton, Sr., a well-known community leader, active in political, civic and social affairs and one of the charter members of the Memphis Branch of the NAACP, won the contest against nine opponents and received 12,000 of the 33,000 votes cast. Thornton was the original "Mayor of Beale St." an honorary position that he retained until he died in 1963 at the age of 90.
Today, the blues clubs and restaurants that line Beale Street are major tourist attractions in Memphis.
Festivals and outdoor concerts periodically bring large crowds to the street and its surrounding areas. Its western end primarily housed shops of trade merchants, who traded goods with ships along the Mississippi River, while the eastern part developed as an affluent suburb.
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By the 1960s, Beale had fallen on hard times and many businesses closed, even though the section of the street from Main to 4th was declared a National Historic Landmark on May 23, 1966.
On December 15, 1977, Beale Street was officially declared the "Home of the Blues" by an act of Congress.
In 1982, the City of Memphis recommended that the BSDC hire a management company led by John A.
Elkington to assist in the development of the street by securing new tenants, collecting rents and handling certain maintenance and security issues.
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