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W.C. Handy, Memphis Musician Extraordinaire

Jul 4, 2008
When talking about Memphis musicians, it is nearly impossible not to mention W.C. Handy. Born William Christopher Handy on November 16, 1873, Handy went on to become a blues composer and one of the most recognizable Memphis musicians ever. He his credited with shaping the face of American music, with his unique rhythms and incomparable style. While the Memphis musician did not create the blues, he was the one who took the art from a regional music style to one of the most dominant forces in American music.

In 1909, W.C. Handy officially became a Memphis musician by moving his band to the busting city and setting up shop on Beale Street, playing music all the time for those walking by to hear and enjoy. The Memphis musician even wrote a campaign song for Edward Crump, the man who ran for Mayor of Memphis and won in 1909. Later, Handy reworked the song and changed the name to Memphis Blues.

Over the next several year, the Memphis musician known as W.C. Handy continue to work on his craft by developing more and more music for the people of the south to enjoy. All the while, he was also working on an autobiography detailing where his blues came from. It should be clear by now that my blues are built around or suggested by, rather than constructed of, the snatches, phrases, cries and idioms such as I have illustrated, he wrote.

Despite the fact that he was one of the most popular Memphis musicians around, he had problems getting the work he wrote published. To get around these troubles, he began to publish his own work. By 1917, he moved his entire operation to New York City. The Memphis musician had moved, and the industry took notice. By the end of 1917, three of the Memphis musicians successful songs had been published, including St. Louis Blues and Beale Street Blues.

Eventually, W.C. Handy got his autobiography published and left his permanent mark on Memphis musicians for years to come. Over the course of his life, he authored five books, including Unsung Americans Sing, Book of Negro Spirituals and Negro Authors and Composers of the United States. In 1955, the Memphis musician suffered a stroke that confined him to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Finally, in March of 1958, Handy died as a result of acute bronchial pneumonia.
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