Handy Ushers in the Commercial Blues Era (Great Events from History II: Arts and Culture Series)
Article abstract: W. C. Handy transformed the native music of the Southern backwoods, work camps, and cotton fields into a commercial craze.
Summary of Event
Along the Lower Mississippi from Memphis down to New Orleans, the blues evolved during the post-Civil War years. At a train station in Tutwiler, Mississippi, a black musician named William Christopher Handy “Rediscovered” the blues in 1903 while listening to a guitarist use a knife to strum a song that Handy subsequently wrote as his own “Yellow Dog Blues.” The occasion reminded him that, eight years before, he had heard another lone singer “hollering” his blues. Handy’s full enlightenment about this aspect of the Delta cultures surrounding him came as his Knights of Pythias band was playing for a Cleveland, Mississippi, dance later in the year. As bandleader, he was asked to perform “native” music—that is, to play blues. Unable to comply, he allowed three ragged local musicians to do so; when they brought the house down, he realized the music’s commercial value. The event changed his career. Inspired by such incidents, Handy later laid legitimate claim to the title “Father of the Blues,” and the rest of the nation, within a few decades, would embrace the music.
While in future the blues would be identified accurately as part of jazz, its provenance historically, although murky, was separate. Jazz represented a Southern...
(The entire section is 1983 words.)
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