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November 16

W.C. Handy

W. C. Handy had a remarkable memory. Wherever he went, he soaked up countless influences from folk music to bottleneck guitar-playing, and incorporated them into his music.

Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

1873: Father of the Blues
W.C. Handy is born in Florence, Alabama
William Christopher Handy, who composed “Beale Street Blues” and “St. Louis Blues,” among many others, was one of the first professional musicians to play the blues, a distinctly American musical genre. But he did more than most to elevate awareness of the blues; he helped popularize the sound beyond its traditional African American roots to a wider, commercial audience.

When Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, his career took off, especially with the release of “Memphis Blues,” a tune he published in 1912 that many consider the first blues song. During the 1920s, Handy formed his own music publication company, a business that proved quite lucrative and also brought him great fame.
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