Who is called the “Father of the Blues”?

In 1909 “Memphis Blues,” by W(illiam) C(hristopher) Handy (1873–1958), composer, cornetist, band leader, and publisher, was the first written blues composition. It was also the first popular song to use a jazz break. Written in 1909 as a campaign song for legendary “Boss” Edward H. Crump when he ran for mayor of Memphis, it was published in 1912. The song was the third blues song published; black songwriter Artie Matthews published the first, “Baby Seals Blues,” in August 1912. A white composer published the second in September 1912, and Handy’s song came three weeks later. He was the first person to codify and publish blues songs. Handy led the way in the adaptation of Southern black folk blues into popular music. His “St. Louis Blues,” published two years later, carried the blues all over the world and has become one of the most frequently recorded songs in popular music. Other well-known works are “Beale Street Blues,” and “Careless Love.” Handy was born in a log cabin in Florence, Alabama, and began playing in a minstrel band at a young age. He was bandmaster and director of a dance orchestra in the Mississippi Delta, and then returned to Memphis where he continued band activities. In 1918 he established himself in New York City, where he made his first recordings and co-founded a music company. Handy lost his sight after World War I, partially regained it, but became totally blind in 1943. Over the years he continued to write music, arrange spirituals and blues, and compose marches and hymns. One of the most celebrated musicians of his time, Handy is known as the “Father of the Blues.”


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