W.C. Handy (03:22)
Handy, born in 1873, is an honored native son of Florence, Alabama. While growing up, race relations between blacks and whites are decent. Experts visit the Handy Home and Museum, and reflect on his contributions to American music.
Handy's Early Years (03:34)
Handy's father and grandfather found the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church. Handy attends the Florence District School for Negroes and wants to become a musician, but his father disapproves. Handy recalls hearing quarry men sing.
Handy's Career Path (04:27)
Handy leaves Florence in 1892. He works at a factory in Bessemer, obtains a teaching certificate, and plays the music halls. His quartet attempts to find work in St. Louis but disbands; Handy sleeps on the streets. Handy begins singing in a bar.
Traveling Minstrel Show (03:39)
Handy leaves St. Louis in search of more opportunities. He joins the Mahara's Minstrels in 1896 and they become a leading touring group; they sometimes encounter racism. Handy arrives in Florence as the bandmaster, making his father is proud.
Marriage, Work, and Music (04:21)
Handy marries Elizabeth Price in 1898. He rejoins Mahara's Minstrels in 1900 and performs in Havana, Cuba. He teaches at Alabama A&M University before leading a band in Clarksdale, Mississippi; Negro music catches his attention.
Memphis, Tennessee (07:01)
Beale Street is a vibrant community. Handy writes "Mr. Crump" at P. Wee Saloon and publishes "The Memphis Blues"; he sells the rights in 1912. Handy and Harry Pace start a music publishing company and Handy regains the copyright to "The Memphis Blues" in 1940.
"Joe Turner Blues" (02:14)
A folk song about Joe Turner is one of the earliest blues representatives. Handy revises the song to make it more appealing for crowds.
What is the Blues? (03:44)
Handy believes the blues addresses an epic in black history. Experts reflect on various ways to talk about the blues; it is emotional music.
"Father of the Blues" (04:38)
Handy's Memphis home is now a museum. Handy writes most of his important compositions on Beale Street; he becomes a messenger of his people's music. Various people perform "Beale Street Blues."
Successful Music Publisher (04:52)
Handy moves to New York City in 1918 and opens the Pace & Hardy Music Co. in Times Square. Handy has good relationships with other entertainers and the public.
"St. Louis Blues" (05:50)
Handy publishes the song in 1914; it becomes an international hit in the 1920s. Several musicians, including Bessie Smith, perform versions of the song.
Partnership Betrayal (04:55)
Handy and Pace develop different business perspectives and Pace leaves to form Black Swan Records. Handy's brother helps him reorganize the publishing business. Handy befriends Abbe Niles who publishes "Blues: An Anthology" to critical acclaim.
Celebrating Handy (02:36)
The City of Memphis names a park after Handy in 1931. In 1937, he visits the School for Colored Children in Sheffield, Alabama; Willie Ruff recalls meeting Handy.
Controversy and Fame (03:35)
Jelly-Roll Morton claims that he is the father of blues, jazz, rags, and stomps, and that Handy stole songs. Handy is modest about his success; his work becomes part of popular iconography.
Hospital Scandal (02:23)
Handy's wife suffers a cerebral hemorrhage and dies after a 55 minute wait for hospital admittance. Over the next decades, Handy gives talks and concerts, and publishes his autobiography.
American Icon (03:05)
In 1943, Handy permanently loses his eyesight. In 1952, he marries Irma Louise Logan. Handy sees himself as a force of change and is beloved by many. Columbia Records releases "Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy" in 1954.
Handy Represents Success (03:55)
Nat King Cole's film portrayal of Handy in "St. Louis Blues" inspires musicians. At the age of 84, Handy dies of pneumonia; services are held at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Handy's Legacy Continues (06:16)
Experts reflect on Handy's impact. The City of Memphis erects a statue in his honor. In 1982, the inaugural W.C. Handy Music Festival occurs in Florence. In 2016, the National Blues Museum opens in St. Louis.
Universal Language of Music (03:02)
Experts reflect on Handy's musical growth; he is grateful for his career. Handy has influenced many musicians.
Credits: Mr. Handy's Blues (04:43)
Credits: Mr. Handy's Blues
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