Well folks, it’s mid-July in the Shoals, which means two things: it is a bit warm outside, downtown traffic is a little more hectic, and it’s time for Handy Fest. Wait, that was three things — anyway, the 34th Annual Handy Fest kicked off just last Friday. If you haven’t yet gotten the chance to join in the revelry, fear not, there’s still plenty of music and good times left on the horizon.
With all the excitement and carousing about town, it’s easy for us to forget that one man’s legacy made the festival possible. One man, whose body of work not only gave the Shoals its sonorous voice, but the entirety of modern American music as well. But who actually was William Christopher Handy? What were his dreams, his struggles? Fortunately, a group of local musicians and actors banded together to answer these questions.
Determined: the Life of William Christopher Handy, is a play adapted by Steifon Passmore and Anthony Brooks from an original play written by Delores Swoopes Nash. In Determined, we find an elderly Handy (Passmore), sharing the stories of his life with his grandchildren. Highlights of these stories include Handy’s childhood, wherein he saved money from working the fields to buy his first guitar despite his parent’s adamant objections, and his composition of St. Louis Blues, one of his most endearing and memorable songs. Determined featured several fantastic music and dance numbers that wonderfully complimented the narrative structure of the play. The African song and dance followed by ol’ time gospel showed just how deep the roots of the blues truly are.
After the show, Mr. Passmore had this to say about what W.C. Handy meant to him. “W.C. Handy is a foundation of American music, and the first in a long line of important individuals to contribute to the history of music.” Truer words have not been said. W.C. Handy gave the world the blues, and we’ve been blessed ever since.
Caleb Darnell is a writer born and bred in Florence Alabama. He doesn’t like to talk about himself that much.