Cleveland in Bolivar County, Mississippi — The American South (East South Central)
The Enlightenment of W. C. Handy
In W.C. Handy's famous account of his "enlightenment" in Cleveland, a ragged local trio was showered with coins after Handy's orchestra of trained musicians had been unable to similarly excite the crowd. In early manuscripts of his book Father of the Blues Handy identified the leader of the trio as Prince McCoy, but when the book went to press in 1941 McCoy's name had been removed. McCoy (c. 1882-1968) later led a popular orchestra in Greenville but never received public recognition for his role in inspiring Handy.
W.C. Handy, who became known as the "Father of the Blues," had no intentions of composing and publishing blues when he arrived in the Delta in 1903. Stack Mangham, a member of Handy's Clarksdale-based band, told folklorists Alan Lomax and John W. Work III in a 1941 interview: "When Handy came here his ambition was to write marches . . . he was going to be the March King, another John Phillip Sousa." Handy (1873-1958) had heard embryonic and emerging forms of blues in his native Alabama and during his travels, but only in Mississippi did the music begin to affect him. He cited two events in particular: hearing a lone guitarist at the Tutwiler train station and witnessing the response to a trio's performance at the old courthouse that stood at this site in Cleveland.
Stack Mangham recalled that Handy's famous Memphis Blues, also known as Mister Crump, was "the same thing we heard that night in Cleveland."
McCoy's trio is not the only one mentioned in discussions of the Cleveland dance. When John Quincy Wolf, a Memphis professor and folksong collector, interviewed some Cleveland old-timers in the 1960s, one recalled a young local trio featuring Willie Webb on guitar and musicians named Sherman on mandolin and "Snow" on bass.
Erected 2013 by Mississippi Blues Commission. (Marker Number 173.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Mississippi Blues Trail marker series.
Location. 33° 44.658′ Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 200 South Court Street, Cleveland MS 38732, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Bolivar County Confederate Monument (a few steps from this marker); Bolivar County Veterans Memorial (within shouting distance of this marker); Delta Blues Inspires W.C. Handy (within shouting distance of this marker); David R. Bowen (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); The Cleveland Depot (about 700 feet away); Cleveland (approx. ¼ mile away); Margaret Wade (approx. ¼ mile away); Amzie Moore Home (approx. 0.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Cleveland.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker.
Also see . . . Mississippi Blues Trail Recognized “Enlightenment of W.C. Handy”. (Submitted on October 29, 2015, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.)
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on October 29, 2015, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama. This page has been viewed 196 times since then and 50 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on October 29, 2015, by Mark Hilton of Montgomery, Alabama.