W.C. Handy: The Father of The Blues

Full name: William Christopher Handy
Nick name: The Father of the Blues

Born: November 16th, 1873 in Florence, Alabama
Died: March 28th, 1958 in New York City
Occupation: Blues Musician and Composer
Why He’s Famous: Handy is credited with transforming the blues from a relatively unknown regional music into a popular, American music genre.

Interesting Facts

  • Handy was born in a log cabin built by his grandfather in Florence, Alabama. The cabin remains preserved in Florence
  • The major influences in his music were the church music he heard often as a pastor’s son, as well as the sounds of nature in Florence which included “whippoorwills, bats and hoot owls and their outlandish noises”
  • Before dedicating his life to blues music, he apprenticed in carpentry, shoemaking, and plastering
  • He saved up for his first guitar by picking berries, nuts, and making lye soap
  • Although his father called the guitar “sinful” and tried to enroll Handy in organ lessons, Handy remained faithful to his string instrument (lucky for us!)
  • Handy played in a “shovel brigade” in Florence in which workers of the McNabb furnace made music by beating shovels against iron buggies.
  • Handy met his wife while performing with a band at a barbecue in Henderson, Kentucky.
  • In 1893, Handy played the cornet at the World’s Fair in Chicago.

WC Handy Today:

  • Marc Cohn’s 1991 song, “Walking in Memphis”, references Handy in the line “W.C. Handy — won’t you look down over me.”
  • Every year, the people of Florence, Alabama host the W C Handy Music Festival. Check it out here
  • The W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival in Henderson, Kentucky was recently named a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society

Listen to W.C. Handy

Memphis Blues: on youtube

“Memphis Blues” was originally called, “Mr. Crump,” as Handy wrote the song for Edward Crump, a successful Memphis, Tennessee mayoral candidate. He later rewrote and renamed the song.

A Bunch O Blues: on youtube