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  • During his off-time, he organized a small string orchestra and taught musicians

how to read notes

Early Career

  • His musical endeavors were varied, and he sang first tenor in a minstrel show, moved from Alabama and worked as a band director, choral director, cornetist and trumpeter

  • He played cornet in the Chicago World's Fair in 1893

  • In 1896, he was invited to join a minstrel group called “Mahara's Minstrels.” In their three year tour, they traveled to Chicago, throughout Texas and Oklahoma, through Tennessee, Georgia and Florida on to Cuba

Blues Roots

  • An important factor in his musical development and in music history, was his enthusiasm for the distinctive style of uniquely American music which was often considered inferior to European classical music

  • In 1902 he traveled throughout Mississippi listening to various musical styles

  • His remarkable memory served him well, and he was able to recall and transcribe the music he heard in his travels

  • At that time, American society and culture was distinctively segregated

  • Handy’s observations of whites’ responses to native black music in conjunction with his own observations of his habits, attitudes and music of his ethnicity served as the foundation for what was later to become the style of music popularized as “the Blues”

    • W.

      C. Handy the Composer

  • The 1912 publication of his Memphis Blues sheet music introduced his style of 12-bar blues to many households

  • Memphis Blues was credited as the inspiration for the invention of the foxtrot dance step by Vernon and Irene Castle, a New York-based dance team

  • Some consider Memphis Blues to be the first blues song

  • At age 40, his musical style was asserted, his popularity increased significantly, and he composed prolifically

  • Handy initially had little fondness for the new “jazz” music, but jazz bands dove into the repertoire of W.C. Handy compositions with enthusiasm, making many of them jazz standards

Mamie Smith (1883 – 1946)

  • Born May 26, 1883 in Cincinnati, Ohio

  • Entered blues history by being the first African American to make vocal blues recordings in 1920

  • Was an American vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress, and appeared in several motion pictures late in her career

Early Career

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