- NAME: W.C. Handy
- OCCUPATION: Songwriter
- BIRTH DATE: November 16, 1873
- DEATH DATE: March 29, 1958
- EDUCATION: Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Florence, Alabama
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York, New York
- Full Name: William Christopher Handy
- Nickname: "Father of the Blues"
- AKA: William Handy
- AKA: William C. Handy
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W.C. Handy was an African-American composer and a leader in popularizing blues music in the early 20th century, with hits like "Memphis Blues" and "St. Louis Blues."
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"Memphis Blues" was a big hit, but Handy didn't get to reap the financial rewards of its success because he had sold the rights to the song, falling prey to exploitative business practices. He then decided to set up a structure to retain ownership of his songs and create his own publishing venture. He released his next hit, "St. Louis Blues"—outlining the hardships he'd experienced years before in the titular city—in 1914, under the Pace & Handy Music Company,
which later became known as the Handy Brothers Music Company, after Pace left the venture. "St. Louis Blues" became a massive success, and would be recorded many times over the next several years. Other Handy hits include "Yellow Dog Blues" (1914) and "Beale Street Blues" (1916); he would eventually be credited with composing dozens of songs.
In 1918, Handy moved his business to New York to escape Southern racial hostilities, and later scored success with the composition "Aunt Hagar's Blues." He continued to promote blues to large audiences in the 1920s, editing Blues: An Anthology (1926), a book containing blues arrangements for vocals and piano, and organizing the first blues performance in New York City's Carnegie Hall in 1928.
Handy continued working steadily throughout the 1930s, publishing Negro Authors and Composers of the United States in 1935 and W.C. Handy's Collection of Negro Spirituals in 1938. A few years later, in 1941, he published an autobiography, Father of the Blues. Having experienced problems with his eyesight for years, Handy was blind by the mid-1940s due to a skull fracture—the result of a fall from a train platform.
Handy married his longtime assistant, Irma Louise Logan, in 1954, and lived to experience his works performed by popular jazz greats. The blues composer died of pneumonia in New York City on March 29, 1958, at the age of 84. Only months after his death, his life story played on the silver screen in theaters across the country in the film St. Louis Blues, which starred singer Nat King Cole as the legendary composer.
Handy's legacy continues to shine in the annals of music, with his songs continually reinterpreted in idioms of blues, jazz, pop and classical music. Dubbed the "Father of the Blues," Handy's pioneering vision also lives on through Alabama's annual W.C. Handy Music Festival.
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