On September 28, 1912, the publication of William Christopher Handy's "Memphis Blues" changed the course of American popular song. Handy introduced an African-American folk tradition, the blues, into mainstream music. By the 1960s, the blues sound had significantly influenced the development of jazz and rock and roll, quintessential American musical forms.
Born in Alabama in 1873, W. C. Handy attended Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College in Huntsville. After a short stint teaching school, he began playing cornet with dance bands that traveled the Mississippi Delta. Handy transcribed and collected blues songs that he had heard on the road in the 1890s, but continued to play the ragtime dance tunes that audiences demanded.
By 1909, Handy had settled in Memphis, Tennessee, a Delta city with a cosmopolitan population and a limitless appetite for music. In Memphis, even mayoral races warranted musical accompaniment. As one of the top bandleaders in town, Handy was hired by aspiring mayor E. H. Crump. To attract attention to his candidate, Handy wrote an original tune entitled "Mister Crump" which merged the blues sound with popular ragtime style by slightly flattening the third tone of the scale. Overwhelmingly popular, the song contributed to electoral success for Crump and musical success for Handy.