Acclaimed “father of the blues,” song-writer and band-leader W.C. Handy was born this day 137 years ago. He’s an important figure in the history of the blues – the first real superstar, through his sheet music compositions, his 1914 St. Louis Blues, and his claim to recognizing the “world famous blues note.”
And, whatdayaknow, I share a birthday with W.C. Handy! Handy, of course, is credited with recognizing the blues for the first time in the plaintive slide playing by a man on his guitar at a station in Tutweiler, has a statue in a park named after him in Memphis, and his compositions are played to this day.
Me, I was a member of the winning sprint relay team in the Belfast primary schools’ interschool competition at Dunmore dog-racing stadium in the late ‘60s and am the proud author of this blog.
But, of course, I’ve one thing going for me over Mr. Handy. I’m still here! Though with each passing birthday, you’re painfully aware of the passing of time. You’ll never be in the sprint relay team again, your hair gets thinner and just about every muscle group in your body heads south. As Jackson Browne says,
Time may heal all wounds
But time will steal you blind
Time the wheel, time the conqueror.
But, there’s no point is dwelling on that too much, I reckon. I like the attitude of acoustic blues master, Rory Block, who’s now over 70 and who told me when I spoke to her a while back:
“Getting older or passing years is only what you make it. You know, you may make a disadvantage of it, but honestly, I don’t go there. I see it as an advantage. Now maybe I’m crazy, but I see it as a real opportunity to know more, to do more with what you know, to feel more…your fruit ripens! And to me it’s like I don’t feel old. What are you talking about? I’m more clear that this is what I was put here to do. You know, really, I see it that way. And man, I’m just getting started! I don’t feel a limitation at all and I don’t feel old – my goodness, not at all!”
So, as I celebrate my something-somethingth birthday, I’m with Rory. There are books to be written (a new one coming out soon); albums to be reviewed (though I’ll never keep up with the prolific and quite wonderful Rocking Magpie); guitars to be played; family and friends to cherish; grandchildren to greet into the world; and a big old hurting world in which to try and make a small difference (with God’s help).
Bob Dylan’s Forever Young from his Planet Waves album in 1974 – which, incidentally, someone gave me as a birthday present – hits the right note, I think:
May your heart always be joyful
May your song always be sung
And may you stay forever young
May you stay forever young.
And now, to help W.C. and me celebrate, here are a few blues songs.
Louis Jordan and his Tympany 5’s big band Happy Birthday Boogie gets the party started. “Happy birthday to you, and I hope you have many more”
Sammy Mayfield gives us a more bluesy version of the song.
And B.B. King has his Happy Birthday Blues, with a bit more blues feeling
And check out this bit of fun from Chris Kramer and the Beatbox, who hopes all our dreams come true.
And finally, it’s not the blues, but it’s a celebration, and it is Bruce Springsteen. Written for his wife Patti, but now dedicated to everybody who’s having a birthday today:
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. (Psalm 90:12)