William Christopher Handy - the Godfather of Blues

Essay by Greg BarnhartHigh School, 12th grade February 1996

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William Christopher Handy

Handy was an American black composer and compiler of "BLUES" music. He

was born in Florence, Alabama. He was educated at the Negro Agricultural and

Mechanical College near Huntsville, Alabama. He was the son of former slaves. He

was educated in the public schools and by his father and paternal grandfather, both of

whom were clergymen. Handy was the first to bring the African- American blues to the

general publics attention with the publication of his MEMPHIS BLUES in 1912. He

began his musical career as a cornet soloist and bandmaster with minstrel shows;

one of his earislst engagements was with the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago

in 1893.

Handy also founded a music publishing house and edited and wrote several

books , including the autobiographical Father of the Blues (1941). Originally, the blues

were a type of black folk song little known beyond the southern United States.


songs brought the blues to international attention.

Handy's career was rooted in popular music. He began his career in 1896 as a minstrel

show and vaudville corntist and bandleader and then became one of the first publishers

of music by black composers.

William Christopher Handy was born on Nov,16, 1873, in Florence, Ala, the son

of former slaves . As a 15-year-old he left home to work in a traveling minstrel show, but

he soon returned when his money ran out. He attended Teachers Agreicultural &

Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, and worked as a school teacher and

bandmaster. In 1893, during an economic depression, he formed a quartet to perform at

the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. For several years afterward he drifted

around the country working at different jobs. Eventually he settled in Memphas, Tenn.

Although he lost his eyesight at age 30, after WW1 he...