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W.C. Handy, the Quintessential Memphis Musician

Jul 19, 2008
When talking about Memphis musicians, it is impossible not to mention the name W.C. Handy. Born on November 16, 1873, Handy lived until March 28, 1958. Frequently referred to as the Father of the Blues, the Memphis musician has been cited as an influence by many popular musicians. Bruce Springsteen, for instance, called for W.C. Handy to watch over him in the song Walking in Memphis, which came out nearly 30 years after Handy s death.

Although the blues had been around for a while even before Handy got involved with the style, it was the Memphis musician who gave it the contemporary form that it knows now, as well as introducing new syncopated rhythms to the style. It was this contribution by Handy that took the blues from a quaint, regional sound to becoming one of the most dominant forces in music, up to this day. That is quite an accomplishment for a Memphis musician.

Despite the fact that Handy was an African American who was living in the south far before the civil rights movement took off, he was a fairly well educated Memphis musician. He always cited the sources that his works came from, as he often used folk material in the lyrics that he wrote. The Memphis musician loved folk music of all kinds, and worked his magic to transform it enough to make it his own style.

Throughout his entire life, Handy was an extremely religious person. After the Emancipation Proclamation, Handys grandfather became a minister, and his whole family respected the gospel. While growing up, the Memphis musician was a carpentry, plastering and shoemaking apprentice. He saved up for his first guitar by picking berries and making lye soap. And then bought the instrument from a local shop without his parents permission. When his parents found out, his father asked him what possessed you to bring a sinful thing like that into our Christian home? Take it back where it came from.

The Memphis musician obliged, and took up organ lessons instead. However, the organ did not hold the appeal that the guitar did and soon enough he quickly ended his lessons. Instead, the Memphis musician took up the cornet. Eventually, of course, Handy would go back to the guitar to make the music that is so revered today. To be sure, the Memphis musician is held as one of the most important figures in modern music.
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