Kociela and Beardsley reached out to leaders and musicians in cities with comparable bragging rights — chiefly Chicago, Memphis and Clarksdale, Miss., — for help, and none objected, Kocielsa said. To pitch the project, they brought in some of the genre's contemporary heavy hitters: Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, Shemekia Copeland, Derek Trucks and Trombone Shorty.
It worked. Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns two casinos in the St. Louis suburbs, donated $6 million to the planned 23,000-square-foot interactive museum with classrooms and a small theater to host local and national acts.
As for the home of the blues, Chicago is focusing on promoting live performances year-around instead of investing in a brick-and-mortar tribute, said Michelle Boone, commissioner of Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Nor is the city involved in last-gasp efforts to preserve the former home of Muddy Waters, which lapsed into foreclosure and was nearly condemned before a relative of the blues titan purchased it at auction over the summer for $100,000.
"There aren't any conversations about that right now," Boone said.
An affluent couple has proposed a museum called "The Blues Experience" first at a vacant shopping center in Chicago's Loop and more recently at Navy Pier. But neither responded to messages seeking comment and city officials said they could offer no specific details.
"We're the world's capital of the blues," said Linda Cain, publisher of an online guide to Chicago blues. "We could stand to do more."
George Brock, an 81-year-old blues harmonica player, stands behind St. Louis' claim to blues fame. A half-century ago, Brock moved to St. Louis from Clarksdale, Miss., and he calls his adopted hometown a gem where blues can still be heard seven nights a week and a musician can make an honest living.