More on Pace-Handy Music Company...
The Pace-Handy Music Publishing Company was one of the earliest African American owned
publishing companies and an industry leader of the Harlem Renaissance.
Harry Pace and W.C. Handy first came together in 1912 in Memphis Tennessee. Pace had
been working in the printing business with W.E.B. Du Bois collaborating on the short lived Moon
Handy had come to Memphis in 1909 and was a popular bandleader in the clubs of Beale
A few years earlier he had traveled throughout Mississippi listening to various styles of African
American music played throughout the Delta.
In 1903, while waiting for a train in Tutwiler he heard a guitar player pressing a knife against the
strings and singing in a way that repeated the line three times while answering himself with the
guitar. Handy said it was the weirdest music he ever heard.
The form and sound resonated with him though and he remembered it a few years later when
ask to write a campaign song for a Memphis mayoral candidate. He re-wrote it a couple of
years later and it became The Memphis Blues. It was likely the first time a 12 bar blues was
published and it introduced the style that had been developing in Mississippi since before the
turn of the century. Handy’s discovery of this rural African American music gave him the title of
“Father of the Blues.”
With Pace’s business background and Handy’s musical talent they formed a partnership and
began publishing Handy’s songs. In 1918 they moved the company to New York and set up
shop. By the end of the year their catalog included The Memphis Blues, Beale Street Blues
and The St. Louis Blues.
In addition to publishing Handy’s songs, the company became an incubator for young talent
including the likes of William Grant Still and Fletcher Henderson. Handy became close to many of the leading figures of the Harlem Renaissance including
Langston Hughes and Carl Van Vechten. They even published songs with lyrics by Langston
Hughes and music by Handy.
Pace left the company in 1921 to found the first African American Record Company: Black
Swan Records. Pace-Handy was then re-constituted as The Handy Brothers Music Company. After many years
of success, the company still exists today and is the oldest family owned entertainment
company in the United States.