W.C. Handy composed "Memphis Blues," "Hesitating Blues," "St. Louis Blues" and other hits of the early 20th century. His pioneering role in this distinctively modern music earned him the nickname of "The Father of the Blues." The son of former slaves, Handy left home as a teenager, performing in travelling minstrel shows, teaching school and leading a variety of bands, until settling in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, Handy founded a music publishing company with Harry Pace (they later moved to New York City). Although he lost his eyesight when he was 30, Handy continued to lead bands and write music. His music combined elements of folk ballads and spirituals with ragtime, and Handy is credited with adding flatted thirds and sevenths, creating what has since been known as the blues.
The annual music awards from the Blues Foundation were known for many years as the W.C. Handy Awards, or “Handys” for short. The award was renamed in 2006 as the Blues Music Awards.
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