Known as the “Father of the Blues,” William Christopher Handy was a great blues composer and musician of his time. He remains one of the most influential American songwriters of all time.
Handy was born in Florence, Alabama, to parents Elizabeth Brewer and Charles Barnard Handy. His father was the pastor of a small church in Guntersville, a small town in northeast central Alabama. Handy was a deeply religious man, whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth.
Handy wrote his “Memphis Blues” in 1909, and his fame began to spread after the tune was used in a political campaign. He then decided to make Memphis his headquarters and opened up the offices of the Pace and Handy Music Company. The company excelled and had great success within a year’s time.
However, what made Handy’s biggest money was the “St. Louis Blues.” The song netted him $25,000 a year by 1940. He wrote over thirty other songs and was also the composer of “Aframerican Hymn” and “Blue Destiny,” which were symphonic pieces.
In 1928, Handy sponsored and conducted a 60-voice chorus and a 30-piece orchestra at Carnegie Hall. By 1903, Handy’s name was well-known in every household, especially since the blues were regarded as a legitimate part of the country’s musical heritage at that time. Handy died in 1958, but his contributions to music live on today.