WILLIAM CHRISTOPHER HANDY.
1873 - 1958.


Blues List. Back Arrow First page Blues Story Next Arrow Charlie Patton.

William Christopher Handy was born in a tiny log cabin on the west side of Florence, Alabama, on 16th November 1873.

His childhood was spent in the post-slavery South of the late 19th century and being both the son and grandson of African Methodist Episcopal ministers, his first exposure to music would be when attending the family church, Greater St. Paul AME.
As a young boy, William had an almost insatiable desire to lean more about music and found himself consumed by the soul-stirring sounds of sacred hymns and Negro spirituals at Sunday services.

During his early days in Florence he would go down on the bank of the Tennessee River, where he sat for hours listening to the poor black workers as they sang primitive songs, true American music which came from the hearts of the Negro.

While the Florence Concert Band practiced inside the local barber shop, he would peek in the windows and play his coronet, with the help of a fingering chart displayed on a blackboard.

Handy organised a vocal quartet and in 1893 traveled to Chicago, St. Louis and Evansville, Indiana; ending up in Henderson, Kentucky, where he joined Mahara's Colored Minstrels. Over the next seven years Handy stayed on the road, with the exception of two years spent at A&M College in Huntsville, Alabama where he taught music.

In the early 1900's, Handy helped cultivate a sound this young musician would call "the blues" a mournful and invigorating sound he once described as the music of "a sinner on revival day."

In 1903, W. C. Handy started leading the "Knights of Pythias" band in Clarksdale, Mississippi. One afternoon in Tutwiler, Mississippi, he heard an itinerant musician playing a guitar with a knife blade and signing "Going where the Southern Crosses the Yellow Dog."
(The Southern and The Yellow Dog were railroad lines.) He made a mental note of the singer and his unique songs and style then moved to Memphis.

Trying to keep up with the demand for music in Memphis, he formed his own band in order to compete against stiff competition with the likes of Eckford and Higgin's Imperial Orchestra and Bynum's Superb Orchestra for the more lucrative jobs in a burgeoning musical community.

During the mayoral race in 1909 the ticket was for three candidates and three bands. William and his band were hire by the huge E.H. Crump political campaign that ran Memphis for most of the first half of the 20th century, to bring in and entertain the crowds.

In 1914 his most famous composition "St. Louis Blues," was published, in all Handy composer some 40 songs he classified as "blues," others included "Beale Street Blues," "Joe Turner Blues" and "Yellow Dog Blues."

In his later years, with failing eyesight, William continued to write, arrange, publish and perform numbers now considered cornerstones of pure American Music.
With all that was going on in his life he found time to write or compile three books related to the blues - "Blues Anthology" (1926), "Treasury of the Blues" (1949) and his autobiography, "Father of the Blues" (1941).

William Christopher Handy died in New York City on 28th March 1958.

Other Alabama blues singers include Big Mama Thornton, Dinah Washington and Johnny Shines his page comes later. For detailed information you can go to the Alabama Blues site.


W.C. Handy. SpacerRiverboat SpacerAlabama Flag.
SpacerClick above to View Larger Picture.


If you prefer you can send a private email to John or Jules.


To the Top