What better way to start off the month of February on Movies! TV network than to watch a film I’d never seen or heard of before. It was a pleasant surprise during Black History month to watch the Biography of the songwriter William Handy who wrote one of my favorite classic songs; St. Louis Blues. William Handy was born in 1873 and died on March 28, 1958 eleven days before the release date of St. Louis Blues (Movies! will feature this movie four more times throughout the month of February).
St. Louis Blues is a simple movie with straight forward story telling. It received no nominations nor won any major awards. What is so great about this movie 60 years later is that it gives us a chance to watch a plethora of black iconic music legend singers and actors. 1963 Golden Globe winner Nat ‘King’ Cole plays William Handy whose father a preacher only wanted William to play church music any other kind of music was the devil’s music. William Handy agonized over this mentality throughout his years wasn’t it possible that his talent for playing and writing popular music could be a gift from God and not the devil?
1950 Golden Globe nominee Juano Hernandez plays the Reverend Handy. The great Pearl Bailey plays William’s Aunt Hagar. Ruby Dee plays William’s girlfriend and Eartha Kitt…well, you know Eartha will be the bad girl with the heart of gold. The effervescent Cab Calloway plays the sleazy bad guy, The Queen of Gospel Mahalia Jackson plays a member of the church choir, Ella Fitzgerald plays… Ella Fitzgerald. Little Billy Preston plays William Handy as a boy. William Handy also known as the ‘Father of the Blues’ appeared at the first Blue’s concert in 1928 at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
My personal favorite version of the St. Louis Blues is the 1943 Glen Miller arrangement titled:
The St. Louis Blues March