Guide to the W. C. Handy Collection
NMAH.AC.0132

Summary
Collection ID:
NMAH.AC.0132
Creators:
Handy, W. C., (William Christopher), 1873-1958
Shurr, Robert L.
Dates:
1928
1948
Languages:
English
Physical Description:
0.3 cubic feet
1 box
Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Scope and Contents note
Scope and Contents note
The collection consists of a photograph, several letters written by Handy, and several pieces of music which he published.
Handy remains among the most influential of American Blues songwriters. Handy is credited with giving Blues, its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a regional music style with a limited audience to one of the dominant national forces in American music.
Handy was an educated musician who used folk material in his compositions. He was scrupulous in documenting the sources of his works, which frequently combined stylistic influences from several performers.

Arrangement
Arrangement
Divided into 4 series: (1) Correspondence, 1928; (2) Photographs, 1948; (3) Sheet music, 1948; and (4) Robert L. Shurr papers.

Biographical/Historical note
Biographical/Historical note
William Christopher Handy, a composer and music publisher, was born in Florence, Alabama on November 16, 1873. He is known as the “father of the blues” because he was the first person to collect and write the songs down which had been played by workers, illiterates, and share croppers. These original blues songs had a three line verse, a definite musical pattern which usually expressed a lament of some kind, and often ended in "ironical self -ridicule, fatalistic resignation, or absurd incongruous laughter" He also had a minstrel show band.
Among the more than sixty songs he wrote were “Memphis Blues, St. Louis Blues, Beale Street Blues, Mississippi Blues, and Joe Turner Blues." Handy wrote other secular songs, made arrangements of spirituals, and did orchestral work as a composer and conductor.
To get his music published. Handy, with Harry Pace, a songwriter, founded a music publishing house in Memphis in 1907 which was moved to New York in 1918. Among the songs his company published was "A Good Man is Hard to Find" which Sophie Tucker, a white singer, sang on Broadway and helped to make it a hit.
Handy died on March 29, 1958 in New York City. Later that year a movie based on his life was issued. It was titled "St. Louis Blues" and Nat "King" Cole played the role of Handy.

Administration
Processing Information note
Collection is unprocessed.
Author
Finding aid prepared by NMAH Staff
Immediate Source of Acquisiton
Collection donated by Robert L. Shurr.

Using the Collection
Preferred Citation
W. C. Handy Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Copyright restrictions on the music.
Conditions Governing Access note
Collection is open for research.

Related Archival Materials
Received with George Washington Carver Collection, same donor.

Ownership and Custodial History
Ownership and Custodial History
Transferred from the Division of Community Life.

Keywords
Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Pace, Harry, song writer Personal Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American composers Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African American music--20th century Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Blues (Music) Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Composers--20th century Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Correspondence--20th century Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Letters (correspondence)--1900-1950 Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Personal papers Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Photographs--1900-1950 Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Popular music--Publishing and writing Topic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Sheet music Genre/Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C., 20013-7012
Phone: 202-633-3270
archivescenter@si.edu