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W.C. (William Christopher) Handy Composer

St. Louis Blues, song

Performances: 7
Tracks: 8
  • St. Louis Blues, song
    Year: 1914
William Christopher Handy was a classically trained professional musician who took up "low folk forms hesitantly." The self-described Father of the Blues said he "approached them with a certain fear and trembling." Nevertheless, it was Handy more than any other single person who helped popularize the blues as a musical form. Handy took the melodic and harmonic elements of the blues—the flat thirds and sevenths and the 12-bar form—and fused them with the rhythmic elements of Dixieland—the syncopation with the accent on the backbeat—and "created" the blues. Handy's first blues started life as the campaign song for a mayoral candidate in Memphis, a tune called "Mr. Crump." Handy's sold the rights for 100 dollars in 1909 and lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties when the song was transformed into the hit "The Memphis Blues." When Handy wrote St. Louis Blues in 1914, he had become partners with a bank cashier in a music publishing business. Handy's Tempo di Blues hit number four in 1916 when it was released as a record performed by Prince's Orchestra. It hit number nine in 1919 when it was recorded by Al Bernard. It hit number one when Marion Harris released it in 1920; number three in 1921 when it was released by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band; and number three again when Bessie Smith recorded it in 1925. New recordings by Cab Calloway, Benny Goodman, and Billy Eckstine over the next decade would put the song back in the Top 20 and the St. Louis Blues achieved the stature of an American standard.

© James Leonard, Rovi
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