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W. C. Handy Letter

Identifier: MSS-1836

Scope and Contents note

Contains one letter written from Handy to Columbia Records executive George Avakian and Handy’s answers to a questionnaire sent by Avakian. The collection does not include the original questionnaire, but his answers and his letter, which discusses Bessie Smith, Emmett Till, and Mississippi’s influence on his song “Yellow Dog Blues,” clearly show that Avakian had asked questions relating to race and music.


  • 1955 November 30


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Researchers must register and agree to copyright and privacy laws before using this collection. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Due to the nature of certain archival formats, including digital and audio-visual materials, access to certain materials may require additional advance notice.

Conditions Governing Use

Researchers are responsible for using the materials in conformance with United States copyright law as well as any donor restrictions accompanying the materials. The user assumes all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any copyright claimants in collection materials. Copyright for official University records is held by The University of Alabama. The library claims only physical ownership of many manuscript collections. Anyone wishing to broadcast or publish this material must assume all responsibility for identifying and satisfying any claimants of literary property rights or copyrights. Please contact Special Collections ( with questions regarding specific manuscript collections.

For more information about copyright policy, please visit: Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source.

Biographical/Historical note

Known as the “Father of the Blues,” W. C. (William Christopher) Handy was born November 16, 1873, in Florence, Alabama. Despite his religious family’s misgivings, he was always interested in music, and as a teenager he joined a band in Florence. By 1892 he had passed the teacher’s examination and moved to Birmingham, Alabama, to teach. He left his teaching job to work in a pipe works plant and formed a musical group called the Lauzetta Quartet. During the next decade he traveled with several musical groups including Mahara’s Minstrels and the Knights of Pythias. By 1909 he was living in Memphis, Tennessee, where he wrote a campaign song for Edward Crump, a mayoral candidate. The song, “Mister Crump,” gained popularity in Memphis, and in 1912 he changed the tune and published the new version as “Memphis Blues.” During the next several years he started his own music company, and he published sheet music to other popular songs such as “St. Louis Blues” and “Beale Street Blues.” In the 1920s he moved to New York where he started another music company. Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee, Benny Goodman, and Cab Calloway are among the artists who have recorded his songs. In addition to music recordings and sheet music he also wrote five books, including his autobiography. W. C. Handy died in New York City on March 28, 1958.


0.1 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Contains one letter written from Handy to Columbia Records executive George Avakian and Handy’s answers to a questionnaire sent by Avakian.


The University of Alabama Libraries acquired the W. C. Handy Letter in 2007

Processed by

Donnelly Lancaster Walton, 2007
Guide to the W. C. Handy Letter
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The University of Alabama Libraries Special Collections Repository

Box 870266
Tuscaloosa AL 35487-0266