Tune of the Day: The Memphis Blues
This song was described by its composer, W.C. Handy, as a “Southern Rag”. It was self-published by Handy in 1912, and has since been recorded by many artists.
“The Memphis Blues” is said to be based on a campaign song written by Handy for Edward Crump, a mayoral candidate in Memphis, Tennessee. Handy claimed credit for writing the song, which was subtitled “Mr. Crump”, but Memphis musicians say it was written by Handy's clarinetist, Paul Wyer. Many musicologists question how much “Mr. Crump” actually shared with “The Memphis Blues” since the words, taken from the old folk song “Mama Don' 'low”, do not match up with the melody of “The Memphis Blues”.
Handy first published the song as an instrumental piece. He immediately sold it to a music publisher, who took it to New York and started promoting it. Well, Handy actually claimed he had been robbed. In any case, the publisher convinced George “Honey Boy” Evans to use it for his “Honey Boy” Minstrels, and professional songwriter George A. Norton was hired to write words for it. The resulting 1913 publication was subtitled “Founded on W.C. Handy's World Wide ‛Blue’ Note Melody.”