African American blues composer.
Autograph Musical Quotation Signed and Inscribed, “The Memphis Blues / to Lionel A Aucoin by W. C. Handy”, on a one-page sheet with three staves, narrow oblong quarto, February 13, 1946. Below his inscription, Handy has written two measures from his song with the lyrics, “They had a fiddler there who always slickened his hair and folks he”
Around the turn of the 20th century, the blues music of itinerant musicians provided a rich source of material for W C Handy’s compositions, and his great achievement was the synthesis of traditional blues melodies with the style and instrumentation of popular ragtime and jazz. In 1909 Handy and his band were playing a campaign tune originally entitled “Mr. Crump,” which Handy had written for Edward Crump, a successful Memphis mayoral candidate and future political boss. He later rewrote the tune, changed the title to “The Memphis Blues” and published it in 1912, with new lyrics written in 1913 by George A. Norton. It was the first blues Handy ever wrote. Many consider it to be the first blues song in history, although due to Handy’s problems finding a publisher it was preceded in print by “Baby Seals Blues” by Artie Matthews, in August of 1912, and the “Dallas Blues” by Hart A. Wand in September of the same year. Handy’s song, which had been released as an instrumental in 1910, came out at the end of September or the beginning of October 1912 when Handy finally decided to publish it himself. “Memphis Blues” introduced Handy’s 12-measure blues to many household, and was credited as the inspiration for the invention of the dance step, the “Fox Trot” by Vernon and Irene Castle. His song created a national sensation, selling more than 50,000 copies of sheet music in its first year alone, but Handy was duped into selling the rights for $100. By 1914, however, at age 40, his musical style was established, his popularity increased significantly, and he composed prolifically.
Marshal Wyatt, in an article at www.oldhatrecords.com, states that “Although W C Handy had not commissioned the lyrics, he professed to enjoy them. Norton’s fanciful verses describe Handy’s orchestra and the grand times it inspired, with a chorus that begins: “They got a fiddler there / That always slickens his hair, / An’ folks he sure do pull some bow!” Memphis was a magnet for talented musicians, and many served a stint in Handy’s orchestra, including a fiddler names Charlie Pierce. It is not known for certain who inspired that line from “The Memphis Blues,” but Pierce-with his violin and slickened hair, certainly looked the part.”
This item is associated with these categories in our inventory:
- Black History
- Musicians / Composers