Florence in Lauderdale County, Alabama — The American South (East South Central)
W. C. Handy Birthplace
William Christopher Handy, widely honored as the “Father of the Blues,” was born in this house on November 16, 1873. In his autobiography, Handy traced the key events in his discovery of the blues back to his time in the Mississippi Delta, beginning in 1903. He also wrote that the music he had heard as a child in Florence “generated the motif for my blues.” Here he also received the musical training in school and church that prepared him for his illustrious career.
W. C. Handy started on his path to worldwide fame in the blues here in Florence, where he heard songs and field hollers and learned hymns and spirituals while servings as the organist at his father’s A.M.E. church. His schoolmaster, Young A. Wallace, also taught him hymns and classical music. His father and Wallace opposed Handy’s desire to pursue a career in music, however, and Handy wrote that when he brought a guitar home, his father, Charles Handy, called it “ one of the devil’s playthings.” But he continued to be inspired by the secular music of fiddle players Jim Turner and Uncle Whit walker and by the songs of laborers he heard in Florence, Muscle Shoals and Bessemer. Even the sounds of birds, frogs and farm animals were music to his ears. As he began to play cornet and travel,
Handy, who had been playing marches, waltzes, rag, classic and popular music, moved to Clarksdale, Mississippi to lead a band in 1903. In the nearby town of Cleveland, he was stunned when a crowd showered Prince McCoy’s ragged local trio with coins for playing music he described as “long associated with cane rows and levee camps.” A guitarist at a train station in Tutwiler playing what he called “the mood for what we now call blues. My own fondness for this sort of thing began in Florence…. In the Delta, however, I suddenly saw the songs with the eye of a budding composer.”
In 1905 Handy moved to Memphis where he and a partner, Harry Pace, founded the first successful black-owned music publishing company. The Pace & Handy firm relocated to New York in 1918 and was reorganized as Handy Brothers Music Company in 1921. Handy’s “Memphis Blues” was among the first blues ever published, in 1912, and his famous “St. Louis Blues” ranks as one of the most-recorded songs of all time. Handy became the public voice of the blues, often quoted in the press and saluted far and wide for his achievements. He also arranged and published many
Other Florence natives who have contributed to the recording, producing or songwriting of Mississippi blues and rhythm & blues include Sam Phillips (1923-2003), founder of Sun Records in Memphis, and Frank “Frank-O” Johnson (born in 1950), Phillips recorded B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Ike Turner, Elvis Presley and many other Mississippi-born blues and rock’n’roll artist at his studio in the 1950s. Johnson worked as a songwriter for Malaco Records in Jackson, Mississippi, and recorded for the Jackson-based Traction and Ace labels before launching his own Phat Sound label and creating a syndicated radio show. Tommy Couch, a co-founder of Malaco, was born in Tuscumbia in 1942.
Erected by Mississippi Blues Commission.
Location. 34° 47.729′ N, 87° 41.087′ W. Marker is in Florence, Alabama, in Lauderdale County. Marker is at the intersection of West College Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 620 W College St, Florence AL 35630, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. William Christopher Handy (within shouting distance of this marker); Burrell Normal School (about 600 feet away, measured in a direct line); Saint Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church (about 700 feet away); The Greater Mount Moriah (approx. half a mile away); Dred Scott (approx. half a mile away); Karsner-Kennedy House (approx. half a mile away); Wheeler Rifles (approx. 0.6 miles away); Lauderdale County (approx. 0.6 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Florence.
Also see . . .
1. W. C. Handy Birthplace, Museum & Library. (Submitted on November 6, 2015.)
2. W.C. Handy Music Festival. (Submitted on November 6, 2015.)
3. The Mississippi Blues Trail. (Submitted on November 6, 2015.)
Categories. • African Americans • Arts, Letters, Music • Entertainment •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on November 5, 2015, by Sandra Hughes of Killen, Usa. This page has been viewed 204 times since then and 38 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. submitted on November 5, 2015, by Sandra Hughes of Killen, Usa. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.