One hundred years ago, in the autumn of 1912, an African-American musician by the name of WC Handy published a song that would take the US by storm – Memphis Blues. It launched the blues as a mass entertainment genre that would transform popular music worldwide.
In 1903 William Christopher Handy was leading a band called the Colored Knights of Pythias based in Clarksdale, in Mississippi’s Delta country, when one day he paid a visit to the little town of Tutwiler.
“A lean loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me… His face had on it the sadness of the ages,” Handy writes in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues.
“As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularised by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars… The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard.”