Several blues stars (Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Ida "Cox" Prather) started out in minstrel shows, and then simply migrated from the itinerant shows of the South to the permanent vaudeville theaters of New York, where their songs were written specifically for a broader audience by professional black songwriters such as William Handy, based in Memphis, who "composed" (but maybe simply published) several of the early "classics":
Memphis Blues (originally written in 1909 for a political campaign, but published only in 1912), St Louis Blues (1914),
Beale Street Blues (1916), Loveless Love (1921),
Harlem Blues (1923).
Handy was fully aware that he had "invented" a new musical genre, as he wrote in 1916: "I have added another form to musical composition and to the world".
He realized that the key feature of blues music that made it unique was that it was about sorrow, not about joy.
Handy made his own recording of these compositions with his Memphis Blues Band
between 1917 and 1923. The orchestra featured trombone, clarinet, alto sax, violins, piano, tuba, string bass, drums and xylophone. He had clearly introduced
elements of western harmony in the original blues (for example, one can detect
a sixteen-bar tango within St Louis Blues).
Handy also recorded one of the first songs with "jazz" in the title: Jazz Dance (september 1917).
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