CLEVELAND, Miss.–He’s known as the “father of the blues” and he has a statue in bronze on Beale St., but it’s the experiences W.C. Handy had while in Mississippi that he took to the world that have earned him a Miss. Blues Trail Marker.
The marker was set to be dedicated in Cleveland, at the Bolivar County courthouse, at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Though Handy’s music may not immediately sound like Delta blues, his compositions are credited with popularizing the music form and taking it with him as he performed in the early 1900s.
Handy first heard a form of the blues in the Delta town of Tutweiler while waiting for a train. A man playing a guitar used a knife to make the notes.
“The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard,” said Handy. That was in 1903.
It was two years later while performing in Cleveland at a dance that his show was stopped by three local performers.
“They struck up one of those over and over strains that seem to have no beginning and certainly no ending at all. The strumming attained a disturbing monotony, but on and on it went, a kind of stuff associated with [sugar] cane rows and levee camps. Thump-thump-thump went their feet on the floor. It was not really annoying or unpleasant. Perhaps “haunting” is the better word,” he said.
Those two experiences went on to influence almost every one of his compositions after that.
Handy was able to bring that music to the public because of his ability to make records and publish sheet music, which many blues players in Mississippi could not muster at the time.