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 public’s 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 earliest 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 vaudeville cornetist 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 Agricultural & 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 Memphis, Tenn. Although he lost his eyesight at age 30, after WW1 he conducted his own orchestra from 1903 until 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 improvise. 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.
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