William Gandy poses for a photo at the event put on by the University of Memphis to honor the “Memphis State Eight.” William is the cousin of Eleanor Gandy, who was one of the Memphis State Eight.

Memphis is known as Grind City for the grit and grind attitude displayed by the people living there who are not only hard working, but also unique. Among the Memphians is William Gandy Jr., a fine example of what it means to be a true Memphis native and whose talents and gifts range from hair styling to song writing.

Gandy, now 64 years old, has worked as a hair stylist in the Memphis area for over 40 years. However, hair styling is not Gandy’s only passion, as he also writes and composes blues music. His association with a well-known family has not wavered Gandy in his pursuit to carve out his own nich and thrive in society. 

Gandy’s father, William Gandy Sr., owned numerous barber shops and other businesses throughout the city of Memphis. As a child, Gandy remembers how his father gave numerous job opportunities to individuals in need of employment. 

“My father always looked out for people who were in need of job,” Gandy said. “He was selfless and made sure that the individuals around him were happy.”

As Gandy grew older, he began to understand the significance of being a member of the Gandy family. His cousin, Eleanor Gandy, was a member of the Memphis State Eight, the first eight African-Americans to attend the University of Memphis. Gandy remembers his cousin Eleanor, who passed away two years ago at the age of 76, talking about her experiences at the university. 

“Eleanor discussed how her and the other seven African-American students were unable to participate in extra-curricular activities,” Gandy said. “They couldn’t even enter the student center.” 

Gandy was inspired by his cousin to achieve and overcome obstacles in his life. Despite not possessing a college degree himself, his daughter recently graduated from the UofM. Gandy said he is very proud to say his daughter went to the UofM, considering the trailblazing role Eleanor Gandy played in getting students of color admitted to the school.

In addition to Gandy’s cousin playing a major part in Memphis history, his grandmother, Mary Alice Gandy, voted in the 2008 presidential election at the age of 106. Gandy wrote a song, “Be the Vote,” to honor his grandmother, who died in 2009. The song also served as a motivator to get young people out to the voting polls and to exercise their constitutional right.

Gandy has written several songs, including a song about the Memphis Tigers basketball team called “Penny Tigers Blues.” The men’s basketball team comes into this season with high expectations, and Gandy wants the team to be inspired to play hard and win.

“I hope to perform the song during some games at the FedExForum,” Gandy said.

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