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W.C. Handy

W.C. Handy was one of the most important composers in early 20th century American music. He was a Freemason and his original Master Mason certificate is displayed at the W.C. Handy Museum in Florence, Alabama

He led a travelling dance band in Clarksdale, Mississippi before moving to Memphis, Tennessee.

He left Memphis in 1918 and moved to New York City, where he started a music publishing company to market his own compositions and those of other African-American musicians.

W.C. Handy is often called the "Father of the Blues" for his role in popularizing blues and introducing this music to a wider audience. See our Interesting Connections page on W.C. Handy for more information on sites connected to W.C. Handy's life in Mississippi, Alabama and Memphis, Tennessee.

His autobiography, published in the 1940s, does not mention the fact that he was a Freemason but does include Handy's recollections of some encounters with other Freemasons.

W.C. Handy's autobiography, Father Of The Blues, first published in 1941, contains an interesting story about W.C. Handy's experiences with some citizens of Sardis, Mississippi. Handy does not give a specific date for when the events he describes occurred, but the incident happened before W.C. Handy moved to New York in 1918.

This is the story in W.C. Handy's words:

"We [W.C. Handy and his band] were playing for a dance in Batesville, Mississippi, when a loafer stepped up and struck one of my men. I protested to my employer, but before he could intervene, the intruder struck me in the eye. A period of wild disorder followed. When this calmed down, we resumed the music, but the fellow waited outside for me. When the dance was over, he came upstairs with a bullwhip to be used on me.

'Run!' someone shouted.

Had I done so, I might have been shot. Instead, I made up my mind to die fighting. Meanwhile a crowd gathered, among them an upstanding man from Sardis named Maddox. I remember Mr. Maddox because of his bright red hair and partly because he was a godsend to me. He stepped up and low-rated the local boys for not protecting me after bringing me there to play for them. Then he turned on the fellow with the whip.

'Hit me, if you dare,' he said. 'I've done more to you than Handy has.' Then he knocked him down and beat him.

Someone again told me to run. Somehow I didn't feel like running. Instead, I stood and watched the battle. Maddox had administered as sound a beating to his opponent as you would want to see, but the fight did not stop there. It spread out, and I could see it was shaping into a battle royal between the local boys and the Sardis crowd. Eventually guns were whipped out, the gangs scattered temporarily and the boys of my band took to cover. During the lull the Sardis crowd prevailed upon the proprietor of the local hardware store to open up and provide them with guns. At the same time I appealed to the town marshal for protection. He scoffed at my plea and went to the aid of the man who had struck me. So at last, with no place else to turn, I took to my heels, and the hunt was on.

All night I hid in the fields. Then in the morning, chilled from the cold, I went to the kitchen door of an elderly white man and explained to him the fix I was in. He was a Mason [emphasis added]. After providing me with breakfast he armed himself with a double-barrled shotgun and drove me to the train in his buggy.

'If that fellow shows up this morning, I'll fill his hide with buckshot,' he proudly promised as we drove along the road.

When I finally boarded the train, I met most of my boys. They had walked to the next station south. All of them by now carried guns. The conductor, it seems, knowing our band, had armed them with pistols he had gathered from passengers and train men....."


Here are some cover versions of well known W.C. Handy compositions:

Atlanta Blues (Make Me A Pallet On Your Floor)

  1. Atlanta Blues by Sidney Bechet (1925)
  2. Atlanta Blues by Louis Armstrong


Aunt Hagar's Blues

  1. Aunt Hagar's Blues by King Oliver
  2. Aunt Hagar's Blues by Louis Armstrong

Basement Blues

  1. The Basement Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

Beale Street Blues

  1. Beale Street Blues by Jack Teagarden
  2. Beale Street Blues by Eddie Lang & Joe Venuti
  3. Beale Street Blues by Tommy Dorsey
  4. Beale Street Blues by Alberta Hunter
  5. Beale Street Blues by Louis Armstrong
  6. Beale Street Blues by Ella Fitzgerald
  7. Beale Street Blues by Duke Ellington & Johnny Hodges
  8. Beale Street Blues by Nat King Cole
  9. Beale Street Blues by Pearl Bailey
  10. Beale Street Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)
  11. Beale Street Blues by Al Hirt
  12. Beale Street Blues by Lena Horne
  13. Beale Street Blues by Canadian Brass


Careless Love

  1. Careless Love by Big Maybelle (1959)

Chantez Les Bas (Sing 'Em Low)

  1. Chantez les Bas by Louis Armstrong

Friendless Blues

  1. Friendless Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

Harlem Blues

  1. Harlem Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

Hestitating Blues

  1. Hesitating Blues by Louis Armstrong
  2. The Hesitating Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)


Joe Turner Blues

  1. Joe Turner Blues by Big Joe Turner
  2. Joe Turner Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

Long Gone

  1. Long Gone by Louis Armstrong & Velma Middleton

Loveless Love

  1. Loveless Love by Louis Armstrong & Velma Middleton

Memphis Blues (Mr. Crump)

  1. Memphis Blues by Louis Armstrong
  2. Memphis Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)


Ole Miss Blues

  1. Ole Miss Blues by Louis Armstrong
  2. Ole Miss Blues by Ben Webster
  3. Ole Miss Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

St. Louis Blues

  1. St. Louis Blues by Louis Armstrong
  2. St. Louis Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)

Way Down South Where The Blues Began

  1. Way Down South Where The Blues Began by Big Maybelle (1959)

Yellow Dog Blues

  1. Yellow Dog Blues by W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues Band (1917)
  2. Yellow Dog Blues by Duke Ellington (1928)
  3. Yellow Dog Blues by Bessie Smith (with Fletcher Henderson's Hot Six)
  4. Yellow Dog Blues by Louis Armstrong
  5. Yellow Dog Blues by Big Maybelle (1959)
  6. Yellow Dog Blues by Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated




Louis Armstrong Plays W.C. Handy by Louis Armstrong

We consider this 1956 Louis Armstrong album the best recording of W.C. Handy material ever recorded. An excellent album. We recommend the Complete Edition although there is a les expensive version available.


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Candy! Savoy Recordings 1956-1959 by Big Maybelle

Big Maybelle was a great blues singer who was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in the 1980s. This album of her recordings for Savoy Records between 1956-59 contains Big Maybelle recordings of 10 W.C. Handy compositions.

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Father of the Blues - An Autobiography by W.C. Handy


Volume One Books, Duncan, B.C.

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