Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can't stay away from the music of the ... See full summary »


Allen Reisner





Complete credited cast:
Nat 'King' Cole ... W.C. Handy
Eartha Kitt ... Gogo Germaine
Cab Calloway ... Blade
Ella Fitzgerald ... Singer
Mahalia Jackson ... Bessie May
Ruby Dee ... Elizabeth
Juano Hernandez ... Rev. Charles Handy
Teddy Buckner ... Musician
Barney Bigard Barney Bigard ... Musician
George 'Red' Callender ... Musician
Lee Young Lee Young ... Musician
George Washington George Washington ... Musician
Billy Preston ... Will Handy as a boy
Pearl Bailey ... Aunt Hagar


Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can't stay away from the music of the streets and workers. After he writes a theme song for a local politician, Gogo, a speakeasy singer, convinces Will to be her accompanist. Will is estranged from his father for many years while he writes and publishes many blues songs. At last the family is reunited when Gogo brings them to New York to see Will's music played by a symphony orchestra. Written by Lisa Grable <grable@unity.ncsu.edu>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


The glitter and glory story of the man whose rhythm and blues beat became all America's heartbeat!


Biography | Drama | Music


Not Rated | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


While the 85-year-old W.C. Handy served as a consultant on this film, he never lived to see it open. See more »


Late in the movie, Gogo runs into Elizabeth and explains she was just passing through St. Louis. The Hanleys live in Memphis. See more »


Aunt Hagar: Well, what is it?
[she looks at the paper]
Aunt Hagar: Nine hundred dollars!
W.C. Handy: [he reads the letter] For phonograph records of 'Careless Love'. Do you think this money's evil?
Aunt Hagar: What I think and what your Papa think are two different things. Your Papa thinks the only true riches are in Heaven.
W.C. Handy: It's nice to have a little pocket money while we're waiting to get there!
See more »


Referenced in An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997) See more »


Friendless Blues
Music by W.C. Handy
Lyrics by Mercedes Gilbert
Sung by Eartha Kitt
See more »

User Reviews

A delightful surprise, courtesy of TCM.
5 September 2006 | by movibuf1962See all my reviews

As long as the great old films are not on home video, we have to search far and long for the elusive cable broadcasts. Well I was pleasantly surprised to see this one air yesterday on Turner Classic Movies. A film that completely reversed the procedure so well known at MGM: keeping actors of color out of the plot of a film so as not to offend the patrons (and sponsors)of Southern movie theaters. Paramount Pictures took such a gamble in 1958 with this biopic of turn-of-the-century blues composer W. C. Handy, son of a rather rigid preacher man, whose musical gifts are repeatedly deflated and discouraged by said father (who believes such progressive music is only the work of shiftless sinners). The big surprise in this film is the warm, sensitive, and totally subdued performances of the majority of the film's lead cast: Nat 'King' Cole as the quiet Handy, Ruby Dee as his patient, waiting-in-the wings fiancée', and Eartha Kitt as a sassy and ambitious nightclub singer. Even Kitt's character- which would normally be presented as a two-dimensional 'bad girl' caricature, shows some interesting depth as she quietly champions Handy's blues and jazz compositions to be seen by a larger, more commercial, audience. The Alan Reisner direction often leans towards the melodramatic, and veterans Cab Calloway and Pearl Bailey aren't given much to do, but the film soars very nicely as a complete movie. Two honorable mentions must be made however, in the names of Mahalia Jackson- whose gorgeous voice can be heard several times in the church scenes as a choir mistress, and Ella Fitzgerald (perhaps my favorite solo singer of all time) who is featured in a *true* cameo appearance singing a single torch song in a nightclub which Handy happens by one evening. It makes one yearn for more early chances like this one, and makes me especially happy that these performers are archived- even in this small capacity- on motion picture film.

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Release Date:

7 April 1958 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

St. Louis Blues See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Paramount Pictures See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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