"I think America concedes that (true American music) has sprung from the Negro. When we take these things that are our own, and develop them until they are finer things, that's pure culture. You've got to appreciate the things that come from the art of the Negro and from the heart of the man farthest down."
- W.C. Handy
Known as the Father of the Blues, William Christopher Handy (W.C.), was born in Florence, Alabama on November 16, 1873. He attended public schools in Alabama and after graduating, became a school teacher and then worked in iron mills throughout the south.
In the late 1880’s, Handy organized a quartet in which he performed as the cornetist. The quartet toured and performed at Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. Soon after, Handy moved to Chicago and found work as a cornetist in the Mahara’s Minstrels. He spent some time in Huntsville, Texas as a bandmaster and music teacher at A&M College and then moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi where he taught band and orchestra at local schools.
In 1913, Handy started his own publishing company, the first African American to do so. Other than the incomparable “St. Louis Blues”, the W.C. Handy catalog includes “Memphis Blues”, “Yellow Dog Blues”, “Joe Turner Blues”, “Beale Street Blues”, “Hesitating Blues”, “Ole Miss”, “Aframerica Hymn”, “Harlem Blues”, “Basement Blues”, “Loveless Love (Careless Love)”, “Chantez Les Bas”, “Aunt Hagar’s Blues”, “East St. Louis Blues”, “John Henry”, “Annie Love”, “Hail to the Spirit of Freedom”, “Big Stick Blues March” and “Atlanta Blues”.
Handy also composed serious music including “Blue Destiny”, “Opportunity” and “Gettysburg Address”.
W.C. Handy died in New York City on March 29, 1958. His legacy continues through the annual W.C. Handy Awards and the W.C. Handy Blues Festival held in his home town of Florence.