The Handy Festival is a ten day long series of primarily music events occurring in and around the Shoals which honors William Christopher “W.C.” Handy. The Festival is presented by the Music Preservation Society and is intended as part of the Music Preservation Society effort to preserve, promote, and present the musical heritage of the Shoals in Northwest Alabama.
Florence, Alabama native William Christopher Handy (1873-1958), was a famous composer of sacred and secular music (including “St. Louis Blues”). He achieved several “firsts”, and is known as the “Father of the Blues”. The Handy Home and Museum currently stands on College Street in Florence, Alabama. His company, Handy Brothers Music, continues today, run by his family members in New York.
The Handy Festival consists of live bands perform at area restaurants, clubs, parks, churches, retail stores, and other places that may host Handy lunches, dinners, late nights or anything in between. It also consists of events during which an appreciation of music is taught such as ABC’s of Jazz, or the Music Spelling Bee and visits to local libraries and museums. The Festival highlights the rich musical heritage of the Shoals area.
The W.C. Handy Music Festival has been selected a Top Ten Event in Alabama by Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel, a Top Twenty Event in the Southeast by the Southeast Tourism Society each year since 1986, is one of fifty “Must-See” festivals in Alabama during the year of music (2011), was a three-time Cultural Olympiad Event (Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games), and was the Event of the Year 2007 by Alabama Tourism. The Handy Festival is a featured Site on the National Geographic/Appalachian Regional Commission GeoTourism Map, and was selected as a 2004 ‘Local Secret! Big Find!’ by Travelocity.com. The Handy Festival has won numerous Addy awards for the Festival campaign (Shoals Advertising Federation) and has been listed in several national publications including USA Today, US News and World Report, Southern Living, National Geographic Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Going Places (Triple A’s Travel Magazine), and Garden & Gun. The Festival has also been touted as a boon to local economy by local Tourism and has been positively recognized by Shoals officials.
Each year during the W.C. Handy Festival, the Old Railroad Bridge sponsors a musical event at the bridge featuring various artist.