William Christopher Handy known as the “Father of the Blues” was born in 1873 in Florence, Alabama in a log cabin built by his grandfather. Growing up, he received lessons on the cornet in the local barber shop. Handy was teaching school by age nineteen, but left for a high paying job at a factory in Bessemer, Alabama. Wishing to rekindle his flame with music, he organized a quartet that performed at the Chicago World’s Fair and toured for a short time afterward. Later, Handy joined Mahara’s Minstrels playing the cornet. Handy formed his own marching band in 1902, which combined various elements from popular dance music, and performed for both white and black audiences alike. Touring and traveling, he heard and recalled music made by rural people. He particularly recalled the strange sounding music he heard a man playing at a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi: The Blues. Handy was a religious man whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth. He said that his inspiration came from “the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art.” In 1909 Handy and his band moved to Memphis and established their presence on Beale Street. “The Memphis Blues” was written in 1909 and was the first blues ballad Handy ever wrote, and arguably the first blues ballad in history. After publishing the song himself in 1912, “The Memphis Blues” became popular all over the United States. It was originally entitled “Mr. Crump” as it was a campaign tune written for mayoral candidate Edward Crump. Handy continued to write music based on what he heard in folk song. “Memphis Blues” was followed by “St. Louis Blues” which was written in 1914 and “Beale Street Blues” which was written in 1916. Handy moved to New York in 1917 where he wrote five books and continued with his music until his death in 1958.
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