THE PIANO LESSON

Is this really W.C. Handy’s piano?

Karanja A. Ajanaku | 3/2/2017, 12:50 p.m.
Is this really W.C. Handy’s piano?
After carefully opening the top of the Fischer piano in his possession, Dardanius L. “DC” Coleman notes the serial number, which he later checked and learned that the piano could very well have been around during W.C. Handy’s time on Beale St. in the early 1900s. Photo by Karanja A. Ajanaku

W.C. Handy – the “Father of the Blues” – once co-owned a music publishing company on the second floor of Solvent Savings Bank & Trust Company, which was located at 392 Beale St., across from what now is Robert R. Church Park.

D.C. Coleman Sr., owner of DLC Construction Consultants Inc., just may be the owner of the Fischer piano that Handy relied upon during that time. It’s in the storage locker he rents in Cordova.

How the piano came into Coleman’s possession, and the quest to determine if it really is an instrument of the renowned blues master, is a puzzle with pieces that are falling into place. I’m one of them.

The story starts several years ago, about 2005 as best Coleman can recall, when he spotted a sign in Cordova advertising a piano for sale for $100. Several weeks later, another sign read “free piano.”

Coleman’s son plays the piano and after talking it over with his wife, Coleman decided to go take a look.

“The guy said, ‘It’s an old piano. I’m just trying to get rid of it.’…He said you can have it.”

Coleman went back to get his truck, returned and loaded the piano.

“After I got it on my trailer, he said, ‘Let me tell you the history behind this piano. He said this piano, from what I was told, belonged to W.C. Handy….and he played on it back on Beale Street.”

The piano, Coleman said he was told, came into the possession of Redline Storage, which was located near Beale and Second Street. It stayed there for years, with no one coming to claim it or pay the storage fee, so the story goes.

“I’m not from Memphis so I had no idea who W.C. Handy was,” Coleman said.

While on Beale Street recently, Coleman took note of the presence of Handy – the park with the bust of Handy and the relocated house where Handy lived.

Ding! A puzzle piece falls in place.

Soon after, Coleman contacted The New Tri-State Defender and shared the unfolding story. As the executive editor, it fell to me to look for more pieces. After viewing the piano early Wednesday morning, I called Elaine Turner, owner of Heritage Tours, which oversees the W.C. Handy House.

“The piano would have been at 392 Beale Street, the old Solvent Savings Bank building,” Turner said during a second conversation. “The bank was founded in 1906. Pace & Handy Music (Company) was on the second floor.”

Ding!

While many associate Handy with the horn, he was accomplished on several instruments, including the piano, she said.

“He most definitely played the piano. His first musical instrument was a pump organ and that was when he was less than 12 years old. He played the pump organ in his father’s church…in Florence, Ala. If you play organ, you play piano.”

I called Coleman and relayed the news about the publishing company. Then I asked him to get me in touch with the man who gave him the piano.