Bet You’ve Never Seen a Musical Instrument Like This

Memphis Blues Band with WC Handy 1919 with Deagan Organ Chimes in background (original photo is at WC Handy birthplace Florence AL)

Memphis Blues Band with WC Handy in New York in 1919 with their own Deagan Organ Chimes shown in background (photo of a photo at the WC Handy birthplace and museum in Florence AL)

“What IS that thing?” I asked the museum guide on duty that day.

“Isn’t it something else? It’s called a Deagan Organ, and if you look carefully through the photos of his bands, you’ll see the one that they played, toward the back of the picture.”

The overgrown upright xylophone-ish piece of history sits nonchalantly next to a bookcase and speaker, in the W.C. Handy Museum building that’s tacked onto the Florence, Alabama two-room log home birthplace of the “Father of the Blues.”

The placard next to it says that it’s one of three known original Deagan Organs left in the world; apparently one is at Purdue University and the other is at the Lawrence Welk Museum in Escondido, California.

Here’s a quick video to see and hear the Deagan – if you can’t see the video embed box below, here’s the direct link to the Deagan Organ video on YouTube.

There are plenty of other treasures to see in the museum and the modest but cozy Handy home not far from the Tennessee River (quite a contrast to the nearby house built by Frank Lloyd Wright.)

Front view WC Handy Birthplace, Museum, and Library in Florence Alabama (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Front view WC Handy Birthplace, Museum, and Library in Florence Alabama (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

There’s the upright piano where he composed and played many of his most famous pieces, including 1914’s St. Louis Blues (“inspired by memories of a short but trying stay in St. Louis.”)

WC Handy's piano at his museum in Florence AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

WC Handy’s piano at his museum in Florence AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The front of this Memphis Blues sheet music shows why Handy is also credited by some to be the “Father of Jazz.”

The first jazz break in American music says this WC Handy Memphis Blues score (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The first jazz break in American music says this WC Handy Memphis Blues score (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Handy went blind later in life but kept right on playing and composing music. Here are some of his copies of the “Braille Musician” ….

Copies of the Braille Musician at WC Handy Museum Florence AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Copies of the Braille Musician at WC Handy Museum Florence AL (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

A lively soundtrack of Handy’s music plays in the background as you wander through the small museum; allow about an hour to see everything.

There’s an annual summer W.C. Handy music festival in Florence, and this part of northwest Alabama includes the FAME Recording Studios and all the other music history tied to the Muscle Shoals area, plus Helen Keller’s birthplace and home at Ivy Green in Tuscumbia.

Have you been to this part of Alabama? What did you think?

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