March 28, 1958 – William Christopher “W.C.” Handy was born November 16, 1873 in Florence, Alabama.
He became widely known as the “Father of the Blues” and remains among the most influential of songwriters, blues singers, composer, pianist, cornet and trumpet player of the early blues rock scene.
Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a not very well-known regional music style to one of the dominant forces in American music.
As a young man, he played cornet in the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and in 1902 he traveled throughout Mississippi listening to various musical styles played by ordinary Negroes. The 1912 publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music introduced his style of 12-bar blues to many households and was credited as the inspiration for the invention of the foxtrot dance step by Vernon and Irene Castle, a New York–based dance team.
Also that year his songs “Beale Street Blues”, and “St. Louis Blues”, had been published. On April 27, 1928, he performed a program of jazz, blues, plantation songs, work songs, piano solos, spirituals and a Negro rhapsody in Carnegie Hall. In 1938 he performed at the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC, his 1st national performance on a desegregated stage.
He performed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940. In 1958, a movie about his life – appropriately entitled St. Louis Blues – was released starring legendary African-American musicians Nat “King” Cole, in the main role, Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Eartha Kitt and The W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in the Muscle Shoals area of Florence, Alabama
He died of bronchial pneumonia on March 28, 1958 at age 84.