What is: Abandoned Train Station, Tutwiler, Mississippi
What was: Meet W.C Handy. William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was an American composer and musician who referred to himself as the Father of the Blues. Handy was one of the most influential songwriters in the United States. While he was one of many musicians who played American blues, Handy did not create the blues but he was the first to publish music in the blues form, thereby taking the blues from a regional music style (Delta blues) with a limited audience to a new level of popularity.
Tutwiler, Mississippi is probably best known in music history as the place where W.C. Handy first discovered the blues, likely around 1903-1904, as he was waiting here, at Tutwiler’s railway station for a delayed train. At that time, Handy was managing a band based in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Here’s how Handy described the encounter (Source: http://www.mississippibluestravellers.com/w-c-handy-autobiography-father-of-the-blues/)
“The band which I found in Clarksdale and the nine-man orchestra which grew out of it did yeoman duty in the Delta. We played for affairs of every description. I came to know by heart every foot of the Delta, even from Clarksdale to Lambert on the Dog and Yazoo City. I could call every stop, water tower and pig path on the Peavine with my eyes closed. It all became a familiar, monotonous round. Then one night in Tutwiler, as I nodded in the railroad station while waiting for a train that had been delayed nine hours, life suddenly took me by the shoulder and wakened me with a start. A lean, loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept. His clothes were rags, his feet peeped out of his shoes. As he played he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who use steel bars. The effect was unforgettable. His song, too, struck me instantly. “Goin’ where the Southern cross’ the Dog.”
The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard. The tune stayed in my mind. When the singer paused, I leaned over and asked him what the words meant. He rolled his eyes, showing a trace of mild amusement. Perhaps I should have known, but he didn’t mind explaining. At Moorhead the eastbound and the westbound met and crossed the north and southbound trains four times a day. This fellow was going where the Southern cross’ the Dog, and he didn’t care who knew it. He was simply singing about Moorhead as he waited.”
From that epiphany in Tutwiler, W.C. Handy changed his own musical direction to a course which led to his becoming one of the most influential figures in the history of American music.