Saturday, August 09, 2014

W. C. Handy Home and Museum

The Daughter and I hadn't even realized this was downtown, but once we knew where it was we knew we had to go.

This is the house W. C. Handy, Father of the Blues, lived in when he was in Memphis from 1909 to 1917. The house was moved to this Beale Street location in the 1980s to restore and preserve it. The tour was a delight, led by an enthusiastic young man willing to share his extensive knowledge of Handy's story with us. The museum had period furniture in the front room. In the back room there were many photos of Handy and his family, and framed sheet music and newspaper articles. Fascinating insight into the local life of a legend.

Handy's song The Memphis Blues was written in 1909 on the upper floor of the Solvent Savings Bank building just north of the home's current location on Beale Street:

Here's a recording of that song:

The perhaps better known Beale Street Blues was written in 1916 upstairs at the Pee Wee Saloon on Beale. Here's Louis Armstrong's version:

You'll see pretty browns in beautiful gowns
You'll see tailor-mades and hand-me-downs
You'll meet honest men and pick-pockets skilled
You'll find that business never closes
Till somebody gets killed

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk
Married men would have to take their beds and walk
Except one or two, who never drink booze
And the blind man on the corner
Who sings the Beale Street Blues

He said, "I'd rather be here than anyplace I know
Yes, I'd rather be here, than anyplace I know
It's gonna take the Sergeant, for to make me go"

I'm goin' to the river, maybe by and by
Yes, I'm goin' to the river and there's a reason why
Because the river's wet and Beale Street's done gone dry
There are more photos here at, and more information about his life at

Memphis has a rich music heritage, and I'm always excited to explore more of it.


  1. It seems Memphis should have been the music capital of the south instead of Nashville. Too bad Nashville had all that country music and music hall, or maybe Memphis would have gotten more recording studios and become the Blues Capital of the South. So glad you got to see this Museum. These are the kind I also enjoy. Not too crowded and off the beaten path.

    1. Nashville does have a corner on the country music market, but we are definitely the blues capital of the south -tho many argue that Chicago is the Blues Capital of the World. So many of the blues artists moved to Chicago during the 30s and 40s because the racism was worse around here. The section of Hwy 61 which goes from Memphis to Vicksburg, MS, is known as the Blues Highway. I want to drive that road and see the sights sometime.

  2. That´s a cute little house, I want one of those! And that´s a great song. I know it well, I had a tape with Shirley Bassey singing this, years ago. A real classic, world heritage.

    1. It is a cute little 2-room shotgun house, but he lived there with a wife and (I think) 5 children. Wow!

    2. Oh, I know! My father-in-law grew up in a house no larger with 8 (!) siblings. But I think we are somewhat going back to being over-crowded, with house prices going up and up. The late 20th Century (in the western world, anyway) will go down in history as the Age of Privilege.

    3. People here are still build McMansions and fighting in-fill developments, but I believe (and hope) we are moving towards higher density living and a less suburban mindset. It's for the best for so many reasons.

    4. I do agree, but I hope there will be a happy medium between McMansions and a whole family in a one-bedroom flat; having a room of one´s own... speaking as an introvert.

    5. lol, yes! He couldn't get any work done there. He rented a room on Beale.

  3. What a great find. I would enjoy that tour I'm sure.


    1. The tour guide was surprised to hear we're Memphians. Beale Street has more tourists than natives.