Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Father of the Blues - W.C.Handy

As stated in " Blues-Keeping the Faith ", W.C. Handy's role in the propagation of blues is not without controversy: his early status as "Father of the Blues" is a title he gave himself in his autobiography. In the decades since his death in 1958, there has begun to emerge constant scrutiny to the fact that he was an astute and sharp-eared musician/publisher who was sufficiently on the ball to incorporate blues elements into the music of his bands, collect blues materials in his travels and publish some of the earliest blues songs. Whether these were his own compositions or 'realized' and codified from melodies and samples he came across in his professional life is often a moot point, because it was a widespread practice of copyrighting the works of others in the first 40 years of 1900's.

Handy was born in Florence, Alabama and was trained at an early age to play a variety of instruments, specializing in the coronet. He was also trained to read and notate music and the basics of arranging. all thses skills were used as he began to earn a living with traveling minstrel shows, which was the principal means of entertainment for the common folks during those days. From 1896 to the mid-1900's he was a fixture in Mahara's Minstrels, running his own troupes.

A song written in 1908 as "Mr. Crump", was published in 1912 as "Memphis Blues" and became a huge success. Two years later came the classic "St. Louis Blues", which possibly Handy took the two simple melodies from folk sources and wove them into his own composition. Nevertheless, the song became immensley popular and helped launch a blues craze in the next 5 years.

During the 1920's and 1930's Handy ran his own business for a while and used a variety of orchestras, working wiht Jelly Roll Morton and later swing players J. C. Higginbotham and Big Sid Catlett. As he became out of step with performing practices and fashion, he concentrated on publishing and songwriting. This withdrawal from performance was confirmed by an accident which left him blind in 1943. He spent the rest of his life writing his autobiography, arranging publishing matters and being an elder statesman for his race and musical peers.

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