W. C. Handy and the Birth of the Blues

By | June 7, 2019

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Portrait of jazz and blues pioneer W.C. Handy (1873 - 1958), blowing on his trumpet, mid twentieth century. Source: (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)

African American composer and bandleader, William Christopher Handy, better known as W. C. Handy, is often associated with the birth of the blues. Today, there are blues awards, blues festivals, and blue music venues bearing his name. But Handy’s distinction as the “Father of the Blues” may be misleading. Let’s see how the clever musician discovered Delta blues and capitalized on a regional sound.

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Was W. C. HAndy the true father of the blues? Source: (blackamericaweb.com)

Who was W. C. Handy?

Handy was born in a rural log cabin in 1873 in the town of Florence, Alabama. His father, a pastor at the local church, thought that musical instruments were the devil’s tools and forbid his son from playing. Young W. C. saved the money he earned picking berries and nuts and bought first a guitar and then a cornet. As a teen, he joined a local band but didn’t tell his parents. Instead, he snuck out of the house to play his music. As a young man, Handy taught at the Teachers Agriculture and Mechanical College in Huntsville and played in a string quartet on the side. As the group got more and more gigs, he quit his teaching job to be a musician. He performed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and traveled with minstrel shows.