Father of the Blues: W. C. Handy
Itâs unmistakable: the horn, the light percussion. W.C Handyâs âMemphis Bluesâ is a classic piece even the most amateur of Blues lovers can appreciate. Penning the worldâs first commercially successful blues song, Handy came into fame over a century ago introducing the nation to a genre of music that took off running and hasnât slowed since.
Growing up in Florence Alabama, Handy was exposed music at an early age, eventually teaching and later leading area bands. His leadership skills lead him to a tour with Maharaâs Minstrels who performed at the 1893 Chicago Worldâs Fair during the height of the ragtime music scene.
Handy married Elizabeth Price in 1896 and four years later had the first of their six children. Settling in Clarksdale, Mississippi with his family â also home of the great Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson â Handy was introduced to the blues by an unlikely source: a slide guitarist in a nearby railroad station, noting later in his biography that âThe tune did stay in my mind.â
Handy moved the family to Memphis where upon realizing the blues were becoming more and more popular, dove head first into the now infamous Beale Street music scene. Realizing his passion lay in songwriting; Handy published âMemphis Bluesâ in 1912 and sold the song rights to a printer for $50. Lyrics were added and the hit âMemphis Bluesâ was born, inadvertently making Handy a pioneer who was later credited as the inspiration behind the Fox Trot.
Inspired by his credited success from âMemphis Bluesâ and looking to make a bigger financial impact, Handy partnered with Memphis businessman Harry Pace and published the hit song âThe St. Louis Bluesâ. Initial success resulted in a string of hits including the âHesitation Blues,â âJoe Turnerâs Blues,â âYellow Dog Blues,â and âCareless Loveâ earning Handy a small fortune.
Handy moved to New York where he paved the way for the industry and Â published Blues, an Anthology, a collection of blues songs for piano and voice considered one of the most famous collections of blues music to date. W.C. Handy still considered Memphis âhomeâ until his death in 1958, the same year the biography film, St. Louis Blues starring Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald was released.
Famous for his musical accomplishments and an advocate, if not inspiration, for African-American musicians, W.C. Handy â the Father of the Blue â will forever remain one of the nationâs most influential songwriters in blues music history.
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