Today is the birthday of the man known as the father of the blues, W.C. Handy.
His story starts in Alabama in 1873; he was an exceptionally bright young man who went into teaching before he turned 20.
But he later began working with traveling bands, picking up Black traditional music and transcribing the songs, even as he performed the ragtime music that was popular at the time.
Soon he was writing his own songs, including one called “Mister Crump,” about a candidate for mayor of Memphis.
The song, known today as “Memphis Blues,” was an instant hit, but the music purveyors told Handy it had flopped, and tricked him into selling the copyright away.
When he realized what had happened, Handy decided to run his own affairs from that point on.
He set up his own music publishing companies to handle not only his own work but that of other Black songwriters.
And some of those songs began selling big thanks to popular performers like Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, not to mention releases by his own orchestra.
Handy organized the first blues concert at Carnegie Hall, and published sheet music collections of important blues songs.
He helped elevate blues at a time when American traditional music – especially Black music – was not considered as high an art form as European classical work.
The blues, of course, led us toward rock music, so you can hear Handy’s influence pretty much anywhere you go today.
Plus, he’s the namesake of the annual awards given out to prominent blues musicians.
There’s a park named in his honor in Memphis, and in Florence, Alabama, where William Christopher Handy was born, you can find the W.C. Handy Museum and Library of African American Digital Music.
If you’ve got the blues because your cat is keeping you up at night, you’re not alone.
There are times when you’re sound asleep and your cat decides to, I don’t know, smack your face to wake you up, or attack you under the blankets, or maybe just start loudly breaking things in the night.
A company in Colombia called CatLife designed a wooden bedframe with a kind of kitty labyrinth built into the frame – so they can explore on their own and you can get some sleep.
Just as long as they don’t catch something and leave it under there
W.C. Handy (AllMusic)
W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues (Library of Congress)
W.C. Handy by Carl Van Vechten, 1941, via Wikicommons