WC HandyOn November 16, 1873, The Blues was born in Florence, Alabama when William Christopher Handy made his debut, wailing like the Bluesman we celebrate on


W.C. Handy, called The Father of The Blues, learned to play music in secret from his preacher father, who considered musical instruments to be tools of the devil.

His Devil’s Tool of choice was the cornet, but he also mastered guitar, piano and trumpet.

Handy and his band gave the world its first taste of the Blues at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Handy took no credit for inventing the blues, pointing out that he learned from previous masters, distilling plantation songs, call and response work songs, jazz, Minstrel Show songs and spirituals into his own distinct blues style.

What he did was popularize The Blues, and compose some of the songs that still define the genre and are reinterpreted by Blues artists to this day; “St. Louis Blues,” “Memphis Blues,” “Ole Miss Rag,” “Yellow Dog Blues” and “Chantez-Les-Bas (Sing ‘Em Low),” a tribute to New Orleans’ Creole culture. His song “Beale Street Blues” changed the name of Beale Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee.

W.C. lived a long and productive life, long enough to see the Blues become a respected musical genre, and give birth to its brash baby, Rock & Roll.

Not bad for a boy who once worked the “shovel brigade” at McNabb’s Furnace, a dozen men tapping out syncopated rhythms with their shovels as they fed the cauldron, the rhythms he would one day bring to the world with his music.

• Suggested Activities: Letting the music take you where it will.

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