W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy PHOTO: University of Memphis Special Collections

Memphis is known as the “Home of the Blues.” No one deserves more credit for this than W. C. Handy — the “Father of the Blues.”

William Christopher Handy was born in Florence, Alabama. His father was a minister who wanted his son to follow in his footsteps. But young W. C. Handy loved music, and in spite of his parents wishes set his sights on a musical career.

But it wasn’t easy. As a young man, Handy played with a minstrel show for a time, then later got a job as band leader at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville.

In 1908, Handy moved to Memphis and began leading bands on Beale Street and writing music there. Two years later he wrote a campaign song, originally called Mr. Crump for “Boss” Ed Crump of Memphis. He later re-released the song under the name Memphis Blues.

Handy performs on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” show in 1949.

With his career launched, Handy went on to write and publish many great blues songs such as Beale Street Blues, Yellow Dog Rag, and St. Louis Blues. In the 1920s and 1930s, a time when blues music was extremely popular, Handy was an international superstar.