“The Memphis Blues” Is Published In Tennessee
The term “blues” originated in 1798 with the introduction of the George Colman’s one-act farce “Blue Devils.” The term associated “the blues” with melancholy and sadness. In March 1912 Hart A Wand, an American fiddler and bandleader from Oklahoma City, Oklahoma published the “Dallas Blues” but did not copyright it so the exact date cannot be confirmed. Although the opening bars of the earlier “Oh, You Beautiful Doll” is in blues structure, “Dallas Blues” is the first published twelve-bar blues song. In Summer 1912 highly popular southern African-American pianist H Franklin “Baby” Seals composed “Baby Seals Blues” as part of his vaudeville act with Miss Floyd Fisher. Because it has a publication date, this is considered by some to be the first “blues” song.
William Christopher Handy was born in Florence, Alabama in November 1873. He grew up a hard-working young man and being the father and grandson of preachers, a regular church-goer. He had to hide his musical talents from his parents who thought it was sinful. He worked odd jobs while pursuing music. At various times he was first tenor in a minstrel show, worked as a band director, choral director, coronet and trumpet player. During this time he took from the musical influences in the African-American community and began developing the blues” style. He played cornet in the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and by 1896 became band master of Mahara’s Colored Minstrels. He toured the country but eventually married and settle down taking a job as a music teacher at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes in Normal, Alabama in 1900. In 1903 he quit teaching and became the director of a black band organized by the Knights of Pythias, located in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While there he studied the music of the rural poor and discovered the “slide” guitar style of playing.
In 1909 Handy and his band moved to Memphis,Tennessee where they started playing at clubs on Beale Street. Edward Crump was a political boss and mayoral candidate in Memphis. Handy was hired to write a campaign song “Mr Crump” which started with a true 12 bar blues strain, followed by a 16 bar section, and ended with another 12 bar phrase. Handy jettisoned the campaign lyrics worked on the song. Although his band plays rags and marches they start playing the new song. People who hear it like it.
On September 28, 1912 W C Handy self-published “The Memphis Blues – A Southern Rag” as an instrumental and arranged distribution through a Memphis music store. It is sub-titled “Mister Crump.” A national distributor has expressed interest as well.