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40 years of music and celebration: The history of W.C. Handy Festival

Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:00 PM CDT|Updated: Jul. 29, 2021 at 7:01 PM CDT
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THE SHOALS, Ala. (WAFF) - The largest music festival in Northwest Alabama is well underway, and it’s drawing some big crowds.

Known as the father of blues, W.C. Handy left a big mark in music history.

“He started out playing the trumpet. His father was a minister and he thought the kind of music he was playing was “the devils” music and really didn’t approve of it at all, but Handy left home and pursued his career in music,” said Felice Green.

He was in Florence in 1873. He’s best known for his song St. Louis Blues. Today, and for the last 40 years, the Shoals area has celebrated his tune with the W.C Handy Festival.

That festival came to fruition because of a conversation between David Mussleman and Willy Rough.

“Willy Rough talked to Dave about this being Handy’s and there was nothing to honor him in a way,” said Green.

This year marks the 40th festival, and it’s comeback after COVID forced the event to go virtual last year.

Felice Green has been on the Board of Directors since the very beginning and has seen the festival grow.

So what’s changed in the last 40 years?

“In 1982 it what just a weekend of music and celebration. Then it expanded to a week and then to 10 days and the last few years it’s been about 10 days and this year 2021, we have 15 days,” said Green.

15 days of music and celebration all across the Shoals.

So whether it’s blues, jazz, or bluegrass this festival highlights all music while remembering a local legend and cultivating community.

“That was one of the objectives of the music preservation society to bring people together,” said Green.

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