William Christopher Handy Essay, Research Paper
William Christopher Handy
Handy was an American black composer and compiler of “BLUES” music. He
was born in Florence, Alabama. He was educated at the Negro Agricultural and
Mechanical College near Huntsville, Alabama. He was the son of former slaves.
He was educated in the public schools and by his father and paternal grandfather,
both of whom were clergymen. Handy was the first to bring the African- American
blues to the general publics attention with the publication of his MEMPHIS BLUES
in 1912. He began his musical career as a cornet soloist and bandmaster with
minstrel shows; one of his earislst engagements was with the World’s Columbian
Exposition in Chicago in 1893.
Handy also founded a music publishing house and edited and wrote several
books , including the autobiographical Father of the Blues (1941). Originally,
the blues were a type of black folk song little known beyond the southern United
States. Handy’s songs brought the blues to international attention.
Handy’s career was rooted in popular music. He began his career in 1896 as
a minstrel show and vaudville corntist and bandleader and then became one of the
first publishers of music by black composers.
William Christopher Handy was born on Nov,16, 1873, in Florence, Ala,
the son of former slaves . As a 15-year-old he left home to work in a traveling
minstrel show, but he soon returned when his money ran out. He attended Teachers
Agreicultural & Mechanical College in Huntsville, Alabama, and worked as a
school teacher and bandmaster. In 1893, during an economic depression, he formed
a quartet to perform at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. For several
years afterward he drifted around the country working at different jobs.
Eventually he settled in Memphas, Tenn.
Although he lost his eyesight at age 30, after WW1 he conducted his own
orchestra from 1903 intill 1921. His eyesight partially returned, but he became
completely blind after a fall from a subway platform in 1943.
Handy wrote music during the period of transition from ragtime to jazz.
The music he had absorbed during his youth consisted of spirituals, work songs,
and folk ballads. His own work consisted of elements of all these in addition to
the popular ragtime and the blues notes that he inserted. His work developed the
conception of blues as a harmonic framework within which it was possible to
In 1918 he moved to New York City, where he continued to work as a
composer and music arranger for film, radio, and Broadway productions. Handy
died in New York City on March 28, 1958.