W. C. Handy

Induction Year: 1983

Birth Name: William Christopher Handy

Birth Date: 11-16-1873

Place of Birth: Florence, Alabama

Death Date: 03-29-1958

Place of Death: New York, New York

W. C. Handy is known as "The Father of the Blues," but a more accurate name might be "The Formalizer of the Blues." In the early twentieth century, through songs like "St. Louis Blues," Handy gave a commercial shape to the music born out of slavery and sorrow, and helped it become a dominant force in the American popular songbook.

The son of emancipated slaves, Handy was raised in an Alabama log cabin. His father, a strict Christian minister, frowned on musical instruments, and when at age 10 the boy brought home a guitar, his father made him trade it for a dictionary. That didn't stop Handy's love for music, and by age 15 he was playing organ and cornet. He performed in a traveling minstrel show, where he learned Negro folk songs and spirituals. After college, Handy became a teacher and worked for an industrial pipe company.

But music beckoned. In the late 1890s, Handy hit the road as a cornetist with several bands. He lived the sometimes exhilarating, sometimes hand-to-mouth existence of a traveling musician. As he later said, "Life is something like a trumpet. If you don't put anything in it, you don't get anything out."

Settling in Memphis, Handy started writing about what he had put into his life's trumpet. Around 1909, he penned a campaign song for a Memphis mayoral candidate that he reworked into his first hit, "Memphis Blues," which was published in 1912. It's often hailed as the blueprint for the modern blues. Because he had sold the rights to get it published, the song also taught Handy a hard lesson. He soon formed his own music-publishing company, and along with Irving Berlin became one of the first American songwriters to control his own copyrights.

With hits like "St. Louis Blues" and "Beale Street Blues," the first published blues anthology book and the first blues concert at Carnegie Hall (1928), Handy tirelessly promoted the blues for decades.

Though he was an outwardly cheerful man, Handy knew hardships, not the least of which was a skull fracture that led to his losing his eyesight in the 1940s. Handy died in 1958, just months before his life story hit the big screen in the biographical movie St. Louis Blues starring Nat King Cole.

Handy's best songs have endured changing trends and have been covered by thousands of artists, from Fats Waller to Louis Armstrong to Branford Marsalis.

"Atlanta Blues"

Sara Martin1923 
Sydney Bechet1923 
Norman Phelps' Virginia Rounders1936 
Eddie Condon & His Orchestra1946 
Doc Evans1953 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Eartha Kitt1957 

"Aunt Hagar's Blues "

The Southern Serenaders1921 
Ted Lewis & His Band1923 
King Oliver1928 
Lena Horne1936 
Paul Whiteman1938 
Jack Teagarden Orchestra1939 
James P. Johnson1945 
Eddie Condon & His Orchestra1947 
Erskine Hawkins & His Orchestra1950 
Marian McPartland1951 
Kid Ory1953 
Art Tatum1953 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Pete Fountain1959 
Cat Anderson1978 

"Aunt Hagar's Children's Blues "

Sam Lanin's Southern Serenaders1921 
Ladd's Black Aces1921 
Isham Jones & His Orchestra1922 
The Dinning Sisters1947 
Jack Teagarden1955 
Johnny Maddox1984 

"Basement Blues "

Noble Sissle & the Sizzling Syncopaters1930 
Big Maybelle1956 

"Beale Street Blues"

Prince's Orchestra1917 
Earl Fuller's Famous Jazz Band1917 
Fats Waller1926 
Bix Beiderbecke1927 
Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers1927 
Alberta Hunter1927  
Ted Lewis & His Band1927 
Red Nichols & His Five Pennies1930 
Benny Goodman Orchestra1931 
Joe Venuti1932  
Bob Crosby & His Orchestra1935 
Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers1936 
W. C. Handy1936 
Tommy Dorsey Orchestra1937 
Big Joe Tuner1938 
Wingy Manone & His Orchestra1939 
Benny Carter1940 
Jack Teagarden Orchestra1940 
Lena Horne1941 
Guy Lombardo & Royal Canadians1942 #20 pop
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra1946 
Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra1950 
Eddie Condon & His All Stars1952 
Chris Barber’s Jazz Band1953 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Ella Fitzgerald1956 
Big Maybelle1956 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Nat King Cole1958 
Woody Herman1958 
The Red Clay Ramblers1977 
Cybill Shepherd 1997 

"Friendless Blues"

Monette Moore1924 
Lu Watters1938 
Big Maybelle1956 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Nat King Cole1958 

"Harlem Blues"

Mamie Smith1924 
Big Maybelle1956 
Nat King Cole1958 
Phineas Newborn Jr.1969 
Donald Byrd1987 
Branford Marsalis1990 

"Hesitating Blues"

Prince's Orchestra1916 
Arthur Smith & His Dixieliners1938 
Jelly Roll Morton1938 
James P. Johnson1944 
Lena Horne1946 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Big Maybelle1956 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Taj Mahal1966 
Ralph McTell1968 
Cat Anderson1978 

"Long Gone (From Bowlin' Green)"

The Allen Brothers1934 
Willie Bryant & His Orchestra1936 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Red Knuckles & the Trailblazers1982 

"Loveless Love"

James P. Johnson1917 
Katherine Handy1922 
Johnny Dodds1927 
Bix Beiderbecke1927 
Fats Waller1927 
King Oliver's Jazz Band1930 
Jack Teagarden & His Band1930 
The Mills Brothers1931 
Noble Sissle & His Orchestra1931 
Milton Brown & Musical Brownies1934 
Glen Gray & Casa Loma Orchestra1935 
The Dixie Ramblers1935 
Sidney Bechet1936 
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys1938 
Harry James & His Orchestra1938 
W. C. Handy & Orchestra1939 
Billie Holiday1940 
Benny Carter1940 
Dinah Shore1941 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Duke Ellington Orchestra1959 

"Memphis Blues"

Prince's Orchestra1914 
The Victor Military Band1914 
The Virginians1922 
Red Nichols1925 
Ben Pollack & His Orchestra1927 
Ted Lewis Orchestra1927 
Fletcher Henderson Orchestra1933 
Mae West1933 
Milton Brown & His Brownies1936 
The Nite Owls1938 
The Swift Jewel Cowboys1939 
Bing Crosby1941 
Dinah Shore1943 
Harry James Orchestra1944 #15 pop
Earl "Fatha" Hines1944 
Kay Starr1945 
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra1946 
Sidney Bechet1947 
Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra1950 
Moon Mullican1951 
Chet Atkins1953 
Louis Armstrong1954 
Merle Travis1956 
Big Maybelle1956 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Nat King Cole1958 
Jo Stafford1959 
Doc Watson1965 
Phineas Newborn Jr.1974 

"Ole Miss"

James P. Johnson1917 
Original New Orleans Jazz Band1920 
The Mezzrow-Bechet Quintet1945 
Sidney Bechet1953 
Louis Armstrong & His All Stars1954 
Big Maybelle1956 
Ben Webster1960 
Cat Anderson1978 

"St. Louis Blues"

Prince's Orchestra1916 
Marion Harris1920 
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band1921 
W. C. Handy's Orchestra1923 
Bessie Smith1925 
Fats Waller1926 
Bix Beiderbecke1927 
Clayton McMichen1927 
Louis Armstrong1930 
Rudy Vallee1930 
Cab Calloway & the Jungle Band1930 
The Mills Brothers1932 
The Callahan Brothers1934 
The Boswell Sisters1935 
Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies1935 
Bill Boyd & His Cowboy Ramblers1935 
Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys1935 
Benny Goodman Orchestra1936 
Guy Lombardo & Royal Canadians1939 
The Hoosier Hotshots1940 
Earl "Fatha" Hines1940 #11 pop
Cab Calloway & His Orchestra1943 #18 pop
Billy Eckstine1953 #24 pop
Jo Stafford1955 
Eartha Kitt1957 
Los Indios Tabajaras1964 
Jimmy Reed1964 
Cat Anderson1978 

"Way Down South Where the Blues Begin"

W. C. Handy & His Orchestra1939 

"Yellow Dog Blues"

Joseph C. Smith’s Orchestra1920 
Handy’s Memphis Blues Band1922 
Bessie Smith1925 
Fats Waller1927 
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra1928 
Benny Goodman Orchestra1930 
Ted Lewis Orchestra1930  
James P. Johnson1944 
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band1946 
Eddie Condon & His Orchestra1947 
Louis Armstrong & His All-Stars1955 
Big Maybelle1956  
Eartha Kitt1957 
Nat King Cole1958 
Henry “Red” Allen1960  
Al Hirt1962 
Alexis Korner1966 

W. C. Handy

Induction Year: 1983