W. C. Handy

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William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was a blues composer and musician.[1] He was widely known as the "Father of the Blues".

Handy remains among the most influential of American songwriters. Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a not very well-known regional music style to one of the dominant forces in American music.

Handy was an educated musician who used folk material in his compositions. He was scrupulous in documenting the sources of his works, which frequently combined stylistic influences from several performers. He loved this folk musical form and brought his own transforming touch to it.

Contents

Early life

Handy was born in Florence, Alabama, to the pastor of a small church in Guntersville, another small town in northeast central Alabama. Handy wrote in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, that he was born in the log cabin built by his grandfather William Wise Handy, who became an African Methodist Episcopal minister after emancipation. The log cabin of Handy's birth has been saved and preserved in downtown Florence.

Handy was a deeply religious man, whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth, and in the sounds of nature in Florence.

He cited the sounds of nature, such as "whippoorwills, bats and hoot owls and their outlandish noises", the sounds of Cypress Creek washing on the fringes of the woodland, and "the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art" as inspiration.

Growing up he apprenticed in carpentry, shoemaking and plastering. He bought his first guitar which he had seen in a local shop window and had secretly saved for by picking berries, nuts and making lye soap, without his parents' permission. His father, dismayed at his actions, asked him, "What possessed you to bring a sinful thing like that into our Christian home?" Ordering Handy to "Take it back where it came from", his father quickly enrolled him in organ lessons. Handy's days as an organ student were short lived, and he moved on to learn the cornet. Handy joined a local band as a teenager, but he kept this fact a secret from his parents. He purchased a cornet from a fellow band member and spent every free minute practicing it.

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