DeFord Bailey

December 14, 1899 – July 2, 1982

Recording history: 1927-1928 released on Brunswick/ Vocalion/ Victor-RCA Bluebird, mid 1970’s (private recordings) released in late 1990’s

Also recorded with: N/A

Important/historic recordings: “Fox Chase”, “Old Hen Cackle”, “Ice Water Blues”, “Davidson County Blues”

Random fact: Though he met with some difficulties (due to race discrimination) in the early days of Country music, DeFord proved to be one of the most popular performers of The Grand Ole Opry during the time he was a regular performer (from 1927 through 1941).

About: Born in Tennessee, DeFord started playing the harmonica at age 3, when he had contracted polio. Having been brought up in a family that had it’s share of musicians, the young DeFord stuck with the harmonica after his recovery and worked on developing his own imitations of animals and trains, as well as the early hillbilly music popular in the area. Once in his teens, other people outside the family started noticing DeFord’s talents and started hiring him for dinners and parties and not much later (starting in 1925) on the radio in Nashville.

DeFord was popular on Nashville’s WDAD radio, and soon after on WSM radio, which hosted “Barn Dance” a program on which DeFord would become a regular performer. Following one of his harmonica performances, the show changed it’s name to “The Grand Ole Opry” and history was in the making. DeFord was to become the only African American in his day to perform regularly and on equal basis with white performers, for white audiences, in the south and elsewhere. Following some copyright complications in 1941, he stopped performing publicly but seemed to never give up playing. His unique rhythmic and melodic talent (and masterful tone) is revered among harmonica players worldwide to this day, aside from being a landmark performer in early Country music history. Some private recordings he made in the 1970’s have been released on CD now and show his talents remained very much intact some 30+ years later.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “Harp Blowers 1925-1936″- Document (his complete early recordings)
  • “The Legendary DeFord Bailey-Country Music’s First Black Star” - Revenant (1970’s private recordings)
  • “Harmonica Rarities” – Westone (2 CD set with of some of his early sides, plus many other important early players)

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