Imagine our world without the various music styles we know and love today. Would Hendrix have blazed “Purple Haydn”? Would hip-hoppers be banging Bach on the block? During Black History Month, would church folk lift every voice, singing Vivaldi?
Sounds bananas, right? Well, this is precisely why a worldwide shout-out goes today to William Christopher Handy, who on this day in 1912 published the sheet music that started it all: The Memphis Blues.
W.C. Handy single-handedly changed the music game. Unfortunately, Handy was hoodwinked, bamboozled, and barely made money from his new-fangled hit song.
But what Handy didn’t receive in U.S. dollars, he surely gained in fame: his staccato-rich ditty triggered the sound revolution that birthed every genre from Jazz to R&B to Rock.
The genius composer, known as the Father of the Blues, is probably tickling the big ivories in the sky right now, if he’s listening to how far it’s all come. In fact, those ivories must be tickled pink with His Ye-Ness — Kanye West — and his bluesy chart-topper, titled Gold Digger.
What’s more, West’s down-home hip-hop hit has spurred a spoof that sums up the times better than anything that Handy might have imagined. George Bush Doesn’t Like Black People, a tune by The Legendary K.O., is set to West’s Gold Digger beat, with this right(eous) hook: “I ain’t sayin’ Bush a gold digger. But he ain’t messin’ with no broke-broke!”
Way to go, Cool Papa Handy! Almost 100 years later, we’re are still singing your praises. And unfortunately, still crying the blues.
And speaking of the Blues and birthdays: Cut the cake also for the legendary Koko Taylor, who turns 75 today. The First Lady of Chicago Blues won a prestigious W.C. Handy Blues Award earlier this year, for Traditional Blues Artist of the Year (Female).