While Handy’s teachers might not have considered a career in music to be respectable, they provided him with the tools that made his future work possible. Naturally blessed with a fantastic ear, Handy was drilled in formal musical notation as a schoolboy. “When I was no more than ten,” Hand wrote in Father of the Blues, I could catalogue almost any sound that came to my ears, using the tonic sol-fa system. I knew the whistle of each of the river boats on the Tennessee….Even the bellow of the bull became in my mind a musical note, and in later years I recorded this memory in the ‘Hooking cow Blues.’” The talent and the inclination to take the traditional black music he heard during his years as a traveling musician and capture it accurately in technically correct sheet music would be Handy’s great professional contribution. It not only made the music that came to be called “the Blues” playable by other professional musicians, but it also added the fundamental musical elements of the Blues into the vocabulary of professional song-composers. Jazz standards “The Memphis Blues” and “St. Louis Blues” are the most famous of Handy’s own compositions, but his musical legacy can be heard in the works of composers as varied as George Gershwin and Keith Richards.
More than 25,000 mourners filled the streets around Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church for the funeral of W.C. Handy, who died at the age of 85 on this day in 1958.
– History.com Staff