On The Beale Street Sheiks

The Beale Street Sheiks were Frank Stokes (circa 1880s-1955) and Dan Sane (1896-1956). Much of their respective careers was spent playing apart, but it seemed sensible to put them in the same post in view of their cool name, and the legendary reputation of the duo, who are said to have influenced Jimmie Rogers, Memphis Minnie, and a great many other performers.

The pair met in Hernando, Mississippi and began their careers on weekends busking as a duo on the streets of Memphis, about 25 miles away. During the week, Stokes worked as a blacksmith. In the teens, Stokes joined Doc Watts Medicine Show, performing comedy, music, and buck dancing in blackface (still common, even among African American performers, at the time). For a time he worked in minstrel shows and vaudeville. Starting around 1920, he began to make his living by blacksmithing again, but teamed up again with Sane to play social events. As a pair they played Jack Kelly’s Jug Busters. The duo first recorded as the Beale Street Sheiks in 1927. Stokes recorded nearly 40 sides under his own name as also under the Sheiks rubric over the next two years, performing blues, traditional songs, and originals. Furry Lewis performed with them in 1928. Towards the end of the period, Stokes replaced Sane with fiddle player Will Batts. Sane would later go on to record with Batts himself, as well as the South Memphis Jug band. Stokes continued to play tent shows and circuses into the 1930s and ’40s, and in later years occasionally performed with Bukka White. 

To learn more about vaudeville, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous,