Historic W.C. Handy Theater Will Be Demolished

(Memphis)  A picture shows the Father of the Blues, W.C. Handy, at the opening of the theater that bares his name and a recording of his voice lets you hear his pride when talking about what Memphis had done to honor him.

“And it has built for $200,000 W.C. Handy Theater and to do so many things that make me feel I’ve been rewarded in more ways than one,” Handy said in a recording.          

The W.C. Handy Theater was built-in 1946 on Park near Airways for the black community during segregation.

It became the showcase for entertainers such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and the Memphis R&B band the Bar-Kays.          

Elaine Turner is director of the W.C. Handy House and Museum on Beale Street, “It was a place that was opened to all of the African-American community, the children in the neighborhood, the professionals. Everybody went to the Handy Theater.”

Years later, the Handy Theater closed when newer venues were built and it was left abandoned.      

Dr. Charles Pinkston’s dental office is just across the street from the theater. He wants it torn down, “The emotions that I have, I think it’s overdue and we’re glad to see it in a way come down. It has no value now. It’s an eyesore.”

Memphis City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert represents the Orange Mound area, “I started getting complaints about this location. Now don’t get it wrong, Orange Mound truly valued what Handy Theater represented and all the entertainment that was showcased in this particular area.”         

The city will soon use bulldozers to demolished the Handy Theater.

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton admits it wasn’t an easy decision considering its history, but one that was in the best interest for the community, “We get it down and there will be new commerce on this spot, property values as a whole will go up once we reclaim this significant site. It’s mixed emotions, but in the end it is for the good.”          

Still, historians such as Elaine Turner say it leaves them with the blues, “When we demolish our history, we’re tearing down a piece of our past and Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues because of W.C. Handy.”

Demolition is scheduled to begin over the next few days.

The project and debris removal is expected to take about six weeks.

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