William C. Handy, this biography explains, was not so much a composer of blues (although he did compose) as much as he was an arranger and popularizer of blues.
Born in the 1870s to a religious family, William was discouraged from playing musical instruments. Both his father and his school teacher believed that music played outside of the Sunday worship service was dangerous and should be avoided. William disagreed and began to learn the cornet without their permission. Soon he began playing with a band and, after traveling to another city to perform with them, could no longer keep his secret. His father was angry, but he could not keep William from his love of music.
After graduating from high school, William hoped to attend college. But hard times crept in, money was scarce, and William learned that even when the future looks bright, there’s always the chance that the skies will drop. He traveled from town to town over the next few years, performing and organizing groups of musicians together to hire out as bands. But it wasn’t until 1896, when he joined the Mahara Minstrels, that he returned to financial security.
As the years passed, William gained more and more experience – and recognition. He had enough money to marry and settle down. He began composing new tunes of his own which he printed and sold with his own printing company. These became very popular, and once again life was on the up. Then came the twenties.
Many companies that owed money to William’s company went bankrupt. Worse, his eyes, which had troubled him off and on for years, gave out completely. Heavily in debt and blind, William lived several depressed months before his spirits began to recover from these blows. He was greatly encouraged by his family’s love and, in time, returned to his company, pulled it out of its slump, and continued to make music. He died a celebrated man.
William’s disagreement with his father is caused mostly by his father’s unreasonable objection to music which, happily, his father apologized for later, after attending one of William’s performances.
Conclusion. A good resource on a man who had a great influence on modern music.
Review © 2014 Laura Verret