W.C. Handy

Biography

Born: November 16, 1873; Florence, AL   Died: March 28, 1958; New York, NY  
While experts in blues music do not take William Christopher Handy's appellation of "Father of the Blues" very seriously, he was the first composer to take advantage of the potential blues as popular musical form. His "St. Louis Blues" (1914) became one of the most enduring -- almost monolithic in stature -- of American popular songs.

Handy was born in Florence, AL, into a family that frowned upon music-making as sinful and seditious;
Read more when as a high school student he purchased a cornet, Handy was forced to keep it a secret from his family. Although he'd earned a teaching certificate by 1892, he worked as a pipe fitter and, in the off hours, played with a string band called the Lauzetta Quartet. By 1896, he had joined the Mahara Minstrel Troupe, touring the American South and Caribbean until 1903, excepting a period in 1900-1901 when he served on the faculty of the Agricultural and Mechanical College in Normal, AL. In 1903, Handy took over the leadership of the Knights of Pythias band of Clarksdale, MS; by 1909, Handy had moved the band to Memphis and operated out of an office on Beale Street.

While waiting for a train in 1903, Handy heard what he called "the crude singing of the negro down there," an early blues singer -- some experts have speculated that Handy may have heard Henry Sloan, a mysterious bluesman who is said to have been Charley Patton's teacher. Shortly after arriving in Memphis, Handy wrote a campaign song for mayoral candidate Edward Crump, "Mister Crump Don't Like It," which had a vaguely bluesy sound to it; it became a regional hit, even though Crump made it into office by only 79 votes. In 1913, Handy published "Mister Crump" in a slightly reworked version as "The Memphis Blues," slightly behind "Dallas Blues" by Oklahoma City-based composer Hart Wand -- for years, "The Memphis Blues" was regarded as the first published blues song. Stung by the fact that "The Memphis Blues" sold thousands of dollars worth of sheet music, yet he'd received only $100 for the piece, Handy published his next song, "St. Louis Blues," through his own imprint, which he shared with his lyricist and business partner, Harry Pace. This copyright went on to net Handy a handsome profit as one of the most popular and oft-recorded tunes of the twentieth century. In the years to follow, Handy also published "Yellow Dog Blues," "Beale Street Blues," and "Aunt Hagar's Blues," all huge successes that inspired a trend in popular music in the years 1916-1923 that witnessed an explosion of Tin Pan Alley songs with the word "blues" in the title that contained no blues at all.

Handy's band made its first recordings for Paramount in 1917, and in 1920 Handy and Pace split up, with Pace going to New York to found Black Swan Records, the first African-American record label. "Aunt Hagar's Blues" in 1922 was Handy's last considerable commercial success, and from 1923, his worklist is heavy with arrangements of gospel material and some semi-serious compositions. Handy also took up writing as an avocation, publishing Blues: An Anthology (1926), Negro Composers and Authors in the United States (1935), his autobiography Father of the Blues (1941), and Unsung Americans Sung (1944). Throughout these years, Handy's eyesight was steadily failing, and an accident in 1941 rendered him totally blind.

Handy, nonetheless, enjoyed great celebrity during his lifetime as "father of the blues"; in 1958, the year Handy died, a highly fictionalized account of his life was made into a motion picture, St. Louis Blues, starring Nat King Cole. Handy's celebrity status and recognition as the "father of the blues" did not long outlast him, though a park in Memphis is named after him, as are the annual W.C. Handy Blues Awards. Read less
Browse 1-25 of 41 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    Moc4: Mark O'connor Plays The Classics
    Label: Omac   Catalog: 20 Release Date: 06/10/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Hans-Georg Nägeli,  Mark O'Connor,  Johnnie Lee Wills,  Anonymous  ... 
    Performer:  Mark O'Connor,  Tessa Lark,  Angella Ahn,  Sara Caswell  ... 
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  • 2.
    Minding the Score: The Music of Harry L. Alford
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80743 Release Date: 12/10/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Harry L. Alford,  Earl Fuller,  Shelton Brooks,  Carrie Jacobs-Bond  ... 
    Performer:  Rick Benjamin
    Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
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  • 3.
    Cartmel Crackers - Light-hearted Organ Music From Cartmel Priory / Self
    Label: Priory Records   Catalog: 1089 Release Date: 08/13/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sidney Campbell,  Ronald Binge,  Ernest Bucalossi,  Emile Durand  ... 
    Performer:  Adrian Self
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  • 4.
    Black Manhattan, Vol. 2 / Benjamin, Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80731 Release Date: 12/11/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Accooe,  Eubie Blake,  Bert Williams,  Wilbur C. Sweatman  ... 
    Performer:  Anita Johnson,  Edward Pleasant,  Robert Mack,  Linda Thompson Williams
    Conductor:  Rick Benjamin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Paragon Ragtime Orchestra
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  • 5.
    Le Boeuf Sur Le Toit - Swinging Paris / Alexandre Tharaud
    Label: Virgin Classics   Catalog: 602552 Release Date: 10/22/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Clement Doucet,  George Gershwin,  Jerome Kern,  Walter Donaldson  ... 
    Performer:  Alexandre Tharaud,  Frank Braley,  Madeleine Peyroux,  Juliette  ... 
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  • 6.
    In 'n' Out: Every Moment Has Its Music
    Label: Analekta   Catalog: 96102 Release Date: 01/31/2012   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Niccolò Paganini,  Felix Mendelssohn,  Ernesto Lecuona,  Franz Joseph Haydn  ... 
    Performer:  Angèle Dubeau,  Alvaro Pierri,  Elizabeth Dolin,  Bernadene Blaha  ... 
    Conductor:  Lorraine Desmarais,  Kent Nagano,  Joseph Rescigno
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gryphon Trio,  Montreal Jazz Club,  Duo Gaulin-Riverin  ... 
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  • 7.
    South / United States Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band
    Label: Altissimo   Catalog: 70782 Release Date: 01/31/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Larry Shields,  Dave Ringle,  Ray Bauduc,  Phil Boutelie  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  United States Coast Guard Dixieland Jazz Band
    CD: $17.99
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  • 8.
    Crossover / Stuttgart Brass Quartett
    Label: Hänssler Classic   Catalog: 98623 Release Date: 01/25/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Pieter Hellendaal,  Anonymous,  Jean-Baptiste Lully,  Jean-Marie Leclair  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Stuttgart Brass Quartet
    CD: $18.99
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  • 9.
    Battle Of The Bands / Duke Ellington Vs. Count Basie
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 63130 Release Date: 08/16/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Count Basie,  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  Spencer Williams,  Benny Moten  ... 
    Conductor:  Count Basie,  Edward "Duke" Ellington
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Count Basie Orchestra,  Duke Ellington Orchestra
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 10.
    Better Boot That Thing - Great Women Blues Singers Of The 1920s
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 66065 Release Date: 08/12/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Ida May Mack,  Victoria Spivey,  Bessie Tucker,  W.C. Handy  ... 
    Performer:  K. D. Johnson,  Ida May Mack,  W. K. Johnson,  Victoria Spivey  ... 
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  • 11.
    Personal Best - The Bluebird/Victor Years 1938-45 / Artie Shaw & His Orchestra
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 61099 Release Date: 08/12/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Artie Shaw,  Cole Porter,  Hoagy Carmichael,  Sigmund Romberg  ... 
    Conductor:  Artie Shaw
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Artie Shaw Orchestra
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  • 12.
    Jazz Masters - The Vocalists
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 66072 Release Date: 07/29/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George David Weiss,  Traditional,  George Gershwin,  Peter Chatman  ... 
    Performer:  Louis Armstrong,  Joe Turner,  Nina Simone,  Joe Williams  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dean Kincaide's Dixieland Band,  Jack Teagarden's Big Eight,  Ellis Laskins Trio
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 13.
    Original Dixieland Jazz Band - The 75th Anniversary
    Label: Rca   Catalog: 61098 Release Date: 07/29/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  B. Brown,  Clarence Williams,  W.C. Handy,  Don Delaney  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Original Dixieland Jazz Band
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 14.
    Music For Battle Creek
    Label: Msr   Catalog: 1348 Release Date: 04/13/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Richard Wagner,  Philip Sparke,  W.C. Handy,  Emmanuel Chabrier  ... 
    Conductor:  Constantine Kitsopoulos,  Sarah Ioannides,  Richard Evans,  Mark Gould
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Battle Creek Band
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  • 15.
    Amazing Brass / Canadian Brass
    Label: Opening Day   Catalog: 9327 Release Date: 01/26/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach,  Sy Oliver,  George Gershwin,  Glenn Miller  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Canadian Brass
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  • 16.
    Swing That Music - A Tribute To Louis  Armstrong / Canadian Brass
    Label: Opening Day   Catalog: 7371 Release Date: 05/26/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Vincent Rose,  Thomas "Fats" Waller,  George Gershwin,  F.J. "Jelly Roll" Morton  ... 
    Performer:  Adam James
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Canadian Brass
    CD: $17.98
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  • 17.
    Harmon: Sacred Circle;  Vivaldi, Walton, Durufle, Bernstein, Etc / Monumental Brass Quintet
    Label: Summit Records   Catalog: 516 Release Date: 03/10/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Craig Arnold,  Paul Mares,  Antonio Vivaldi,  William Byrd  ... 
    Performer:  Nicolas Lowe,  Gregory Freeman,  Michael Parker,  Patrick Whitehead  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Monumental Brass Quintet
    On sale! $17.98
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  • 18.
    5 Stars - Favorites From The 5 Browns
    Label: Rca Victor Red Seal   Catalog: 736966 Release Date: 09/30/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov,  Sergei Rachmaninov,  Aaron Copland,  Ignaz Friedman  ... 
    Performer:  Gregory Brown,  Ryan Brown,  Melody Brown,  Deondra Brown  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  The 5 Browns
    CD: $11.99
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  • 19.
    Pops On The March / John Williams, Boston Pops
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 420804 Release Date: 09/16/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sir William Walton,  Alfred Newman,  Ray Bauduc,  Meredith Willson  ... 
    Conductor:  John T. Williams
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Pops
    ArkivCD $16.99
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  • 20.
    Paul Robeson - The Complete EMI Sessions 1928-1939
    Label: Emi Classics   Catalog: 15586 Release Date: 08/19/2008   Number of Discs: 7
    Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn,  Traditional,  Thomas John Williams,  John Ireland  ... 
    Performer:  Paul Robeson,  Lawrence Brown,  Ruthland Clapham,  Herbert Dawson
    Conductor:  Ernest Irving,  Walter Goehr,  Ronnie Munro,  Carroll Gibbons  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Orchestra,  Mayfair Orchestra,  Jack Hylton Orchestra  ... 
    On sale! $110.98
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  • 21.
    Piano Starts Here - Live At The Shrine / Art Tatum
    Label: Sony   Catalog: 722218 Release Date: 06/03/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Morgan Lewis,  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  George Gershwin,  Traditional  ... 
    Performer:  Art Tatum
    SuperAudio CD: $14.99
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  • 22.
    Browns In Blue / The 5 Browns
    Label: Rca Victor Red Seal   Catalog: 711322 Release Date: 10/02/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov,  Franz Liszt,  Ken Lane,  George Gershwin  ... 
    Performer:  Desirae Brown,  Deondra Brown,  Ryan Brown,  Dean Martin  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  The 5 Browns
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  • 23.
    Concert Band Essentials / Canadian Brass
    Label: Opening Day   Catalog: 7341 Release Date: 06/26/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Luther Henderson,  Traditional,  Hughie Cannon,  Rayburn Wright  ... 
    Conductor:  Cameron Walter
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Canadian Brass,  Wind Ensemble
    CD: $17.98
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  • 24.
    High Society / Canadian Brass
    Label: Opening Day   Catalog: 7336 Release Date: 06/12/2007   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Traditional,  Lew Pollack,  Luther Henderson,  Euday L. Bowman  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Canadian Brass
    CD: $17.98
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  • 25.
    Amazing Brass [dvd]
    Label: Linus   Catalog: 75224 Release Date: 01/01/2007   Number of Discs: 2
    Composer:  Samuel Scheidt,  Ernie Burnett,  Jelly Roll Morton,  Luther Henderson  ... 
    On sale! $33.99
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    $31.99
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