W. C. Handy Birthplace and Museum, where the blues took root
The idea to go to the W.C. Handy Birthplace and Museum was rooted for me after seeing the Handy home in Memphis. This past week my mom and I headed for the area that W.C. Handy described in his biography Father of the Blues as “Where the Tennessee River, like a silver snake, winds her way through the red clay hills of Alabama, sits high on these hills my hometown, Florence.”
Born in November of 1873, William Christopher Handy was the son and grandson of ministers that were former slaves. Handy was raised in a religious home near the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church where they preached. Selena the guide at the Museum shared, “The cabin was torn down and moved here in 1969. It was rebuilt so only the logs are original. W.C’s father and grandfather built the cabin after the Civil War. It had a dirt floor and two rooms.”
The cabin is now enclosed and is part of the museum that highlights Handy’s life and musical successes. The website for the museum states, “Born with a natural musical bent-as a boy he visualized birdcalls as notes on a scale. Handy went on to compose such well-known blues jewels as St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues, and Memphis Blues. Feel the blues down to your toes standing next to the very piano that shook with St. Louis Blues for the first time; see his hand-written sheets of music-originals of many of his tunes.”
After following his musical trail, it was awe inspiring to hear his story and imagine that just years after the Civil War, Handy made such a musical presence that has lingered on. Selena said that the publishing company he started in Memphis and moved to New York, although small,l these days is still open and run by W.C. Handy’s grandson. His legacy lives on all over the country, but truly can be found by visiting this museum or coming to the area like we did during the Handy Festival which has been going on since 1982. The Music Preservation Society, Inc. has been honoring and celebrating the “Father of the Blues” with this annual ten-day series of events that brings music of all types.
We witnessed the opening festival activities which began with a Ken Waters trumpet solo playing W. C. Handy’s St. Louis Blues. We stayed long enough to hear the magical sounds of Kuumba and watch accompanying African dancers.
Georgia Turner Carter of the Florence/Lauderdale Tourism also took us by the W.C. Handy statue in Wilson Park. These sites are just a few of the ways that Handy’s legacy lives on in the music he inspired though the famed Muscle Shoals sounds.