William Christopher “W.C”. Handy was “Father of the Blues”. The Festival in his honor came about as an idea birthed after a conversation between Dr. David Mussleman and Dr. Willie Ruff, making them the “Fathers of the Handy Festival”. However, it was Edsel Holden who became the Handy Festival’s “God-Father”. Edsel served on the original Music Preservation Society Board of Directors, and through the years spent considerable time making the Handy Festival successful. He worked at all hours of the day and night, talking with owners and managers about featuring live music in local restaurants, bars, and other businesses, putting together performers to create ‘dream team’ jazz trios, quartets, and quintets, and convincing sponsors to fund it all. The result was one of the best weeks of the year in the Shoals area: the W.C. Handy Music Festival. Edsel never stopped loving and assisting (and helping to direct) the Handy Festival. His flair for presenting music benefited the entire area.
The Music Preservation Society Inc. honors the memory of Edsel Holden, and will be always be grateful for his untiring support of the W.C. Handy Music Festival. His loss resulted in many phone calls expressing sadness and disbelief that this vibrant lover of music had sung his last song. Some of the many who reached out via email to express sadness at losing him include:
Laszlo Gardony: “I always think of him as a friend, and I am very sorry to learn that he is gone. He was a sparkling light for everyone who knew him and he will be deeply missed. Laszlo”
Denise Thimes: “He will truly truly be missed by me. A ‘one of a kind’.”
Susann Hamlin: “Edsel will be sorely missed by many. I will pray for his family.”
Bill Huber: “Although I was late in coming to know Edsel, I am grateful that I did get to know him, and share his passion for music, delight in people, and joy in life. I’m glad the Handy Festival is in good hands; each Festival is a proper and fitting tribute to Edsel and his vision. Sincerely, Bill Huber”
Robert Redd: “I was so sad to hear this. Edsel was a great guy! One of the first people I met when I came to the Handy Festival around 20 years ago. He welcomed me and was so gracious and made me feel right at home! His presence was such an integral part of what has shaped the Handy Fest to be such a wonderful experience for us all. He will be greatly missed. Robert”
Sonny Harris: “I’m very sad to hear about Edsel. He was a wonderful man and musician. He was one of those who makes things happen, who inspires and involves and encourages people to do big things, to be the best they can be, to take advantage of the great opportunities life can bring. Edsel is responsible for giving me the opportunity to have 20 wonderful years of playing music with great musicians. I will always be grateful to him and to you and to all the others who made Handy happen for me. Handy was one the few most important events and influences in my life – unforgettable times and events and people!! Please pass this email along to his family. Thank you very much. Love and best wishes to all. Sonny”
Tori Bailey: Edsel shared his enthusiasm for listening to and performing great music, and his expertise in putting together excellent shows. Edsel loved the W.C. Handy Festival, and knew what an asset it is to our community. He raised funds for music events and venues, and he provided valuable insight, advice, and encouragement to the Handy team all the way through Handy Festival 2019. I cannot imagine how it will be not seeing him and talking to him (and taking direction from him!) during the month of July. He leaves a void that cannot be filled, and he will be missed.