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Columbia College Chicago
St. Louis Grey's Quick Step

St. Louis Grey's Quick Step

J. W. Postlewaite (1837-1889) BMI

The earliest known black composer in St. Louis was J. W. Postlewaite, a former slave who was freed in 1850. His first composition appeared in 1845 while he was still in bondage. The facts that Postlewaite was writing music while still in slavery, that his handwriting was that of a cultivated individual, and that the title of his first work was Concert Hall Grand March (St. Louis: Balmer & Weber, 1845) indicate that, unlike most slaves, Postlewaite was educated and was prepared to participate in the polite culture of the period. In Missouri, contrary to the usual practice of the time, the educating of slaves was not uncommon, as pointed out by H. C. Bruce in his book titled The New Man (1895).

By 1857 Postlewaite was leading bands and publishing his own works; he was the owner of a coffee house, a publishing firm, and a booking agency. By 1864 at least eighteen of his compositions had been published by the leading music houses, including Balmer & Weber, Henry P. Sherburne, J. Ballhouse, H. Pilcher and Sons, and by his own firm, the house of J. W. Postlewaite. In the 1860s Postlewaite was performing as a minstrel, but by 1880 he had composed and published at least thirty-seven compositions and was performing for exclusive affairs such as St. Louis's famous Veiled Prophets Pageant, for which he led a brass band of sixteen pieces. The music Postlewaite composed was of the social dance variety -- waltzes, schottishes, marches and quick steps, polkas, marzurkas, and quadrilles -- all written for dancing and for the teaching of dancing. Postlewaite's association with a dancing master of the period confirms this terpsichorean intention.
Postlewaite had a definite impact on St. Louis society. After his death, two white men assumed the leadership of his band and continued it under Postlewaite's name. The continuing popularity of his compositions is demonstrated bv their inclusion in sheet music anthologies of the period and by the fact that some of his pieces went through more than one edition. St. Louis Grey's Quick Step was published in ten different versions following its first publication in 1852.