They call him the Father of the Blues . . .

W.C. Handy . . . and while the blues can claim many fathers, William Christopher Handy must certainly be considered among them. Born in Florence, Alabama, in 1873, W.C. Handy was by no means a Delta bluesman. He was a student of music as a child, playing the cornet, and later traveled the South with dance bands playing minstrel and tent shows. Handy had heard something akin to the blues as early as 1892, but it was while waiting for an overdue train in Tutwiler, Mississippi, in 1903 that he heard an itinerant bluesman playing slide guitar and singing about "goin' where the Southern cross the Dog," referring to the junction of the Southern and Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroads farther south near Moorhead. Handy called it "the weirdest music I had ever heard."

W.C. Handy settled in Memphis, Tennessee, about 1909, using Beale Street's Pee Wee's Saloon as his headquarters. His greatest contributions to blues music were his compositions Memphis Blues, St. Louis Blues, Yellow Dog Blues, and Beale Street Blues. Handy died in New York City in 1958 and is today honored with the annual W.C. Handy Awards, The Blues Foundation's equivalent to the Grammy's.

See the Map or scroll on down the highway.

Charley Patton The Delta blues sound that we know today originated with Charley Patton. Born in Edwards, Mississippi, sometime between 1881 and 1891, Patton lived and worked on Dockery's Plantation near Cleveland, Mississippi. It is there that he mentored such legends as Willie Brown, Tommy Johnson, Pops Staples, and Howlin' Wolf. And the greats Robert Johnson, Son House, and Bukka White, among many others, claimed Patton as their primary influence. Patton had become popular in the Delta region by 1915. In 1929, he traveled to Richmond, Indiana, to record Pony Blues for the Paramount label. Other sessions followed, and shortly before his death in Indianola, Mississippi, in 1934, he recorded Revenue Man Blues for the American Record Company in New York City.

Blind Lemon Jefferson Charley Patton's Texan counterpart was Blind Lemon Jefferson. Born near Wortham, Texas, in 1893, Jefferson was indeed blind, unlike other Delta musicians who merely claimed the limitation. He moved to Dallas in his early 20's, supporting a family by playing on street corners for spare change. A brief but prolific recording career began in 1925, first with Paramount, then with OKeh, where he recorded Match Box Blues and That Black Snake Moan. Jefferson also recorded See That My Grave Is Kept Clean -- an early blues spiritual -- Jack O'Diamonds, Boll Weevil Blues, and Corrina Blues. He died penniless in Chicago in December 1929, possibly suffering a heart attack during a snowstorm.

Leadbelly Born in Shiloh, Louisiana, in 1888, Huddie Ledbetter -- known in the blues world as Leadbelly -- was among the first of the great American balladeers. Though he lived the life of a traditional Delta bluesman, Leadbelly was as well known as a folk singer, having originated such tunes as Goodnight Irene, Midnight Special, and Rock Island Line. Leadbelly was a large man, and given to fits of rage. In 1917, he was convicted in Texas for killing a man and in 1930 was convicted of attempted murder in Louisiana. Both sentences were commuted, however, based solely on his musicianship. His "discovery" came, in fact, at Louisiana's Angola Prison Farm when music historians John and Alan Lomax visited there in 1933. Leadbelly died in New York City in 1949.

Son House Born Eddie James, Jr., in Riverton, Mississippi, in 1902, Son House marked his personal Delta style with intense vocals and brutal guitar work. House began his adult life as a Baptist minister, and it wasn't until he was 24 that he even began to play the guitar. He killed a man in 1928 and was sentenced to the infamous Parchman Farm, but was soon released after it was determined that he had acted in self-defense. House played with Charley Patton and Willie Brown in the early 1930's and during that time recorded Preachin' The Blues for Paramount. Alan Lomax recorded House for the Library of Congress in 1941, and in 1965, during his "rediscovery," he recorded the mournful Death Letter for CBS Records. He died in Detroit, Michigan, in 1988.

Bukka White Like Son House and other Delta greats, Booker T. Washington "Bukka" White did not enjoy the popularity he deserved until the folk-music revival of the early 1960's. White was born in Houston, Mississippi, in 1909 and came under the tutelage of Charley Patton in the late 1920's. He recorded first for the Victor label in Memphis, but also made money playing professional baseball and prize fighting. White spent some time at Parchman Farm as well -- after shooting a man in 1937, then escaping to Chicago. Alan Lomax recorded White at Parchman Farm, and White resumed his music career upon his release in 1940, recording his signature piece Fixin' To Die Blues for Chicago's Vocalion label. Bukka White died in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1977.

T-Bone Walker Blues guitar became an art form in the hands of Aaron Thibeaux "T-Bone" Walker. Considered to be the first bluesman to ever play the electric kind -- he had done so as early as 1935 -- Walker came to apply the teachings of friend and fellow Texan Blind Lemon Jefferson to record some of the most seminal works of the genre. Walker was born in Linden, Texas, in 1910, and as a boy, became Jefferson's guide through the streets of Dallas. He recorded Wichita Falls Blues and Trinity River Blues for Columbia Records in 1929, then was off to Los Angeles -- not Chicago -- by 1934. In 1939, he recorded the classic T-Bone Blues, and while with the Black & White label, T-Bone Shuffle and Call It Stormy Monday in 1947. Walker also enjoyed prolific careers with Imperial and Atlantic before succumbing to pneumonia in Los Angeles in 1975.

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