NATIONAL NEWS

Nashville to name street after ‘Harmonica Wizard,’ Opry founder DeFord Bailey

May 18, 2023, 9:42 AM

This mid 1970s image shows Grand Ole Opry pioneer Carlos DeFord Bailey. The city of Nashville is na...

This mid 1970s image shows Grand Ole Opry pioneer Carlos DeFord Bailey. The city of Nashville is naming a street after Bailey, the “Harmonica Wizard," whose popularity and contributions to country music and blues are still being recognized decades later. On Saturday, DeFord Bailey Avenue will be officially dedicated in the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville where Bailey lived most of his life until his death in 1982. (Marilyn Keeler Morton via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Marilyn Keeler Morton via AP)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The city of Nashville is naming a street after Grand Ole Opry pioneer DeFord Bailey, the “Harmonica Wizard” whose popularity and contributions to country music and blues are still being recognized decades later.

On Saturday, DeFord Bailey Avenue will be officially dedicated in the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville where Bailey lived most of his life until his death in 1982. Two of Bailey’s grandsons, Carlos DeFord Bailey and Herchel Bailey will perform at a concert after the dedication.

Bailey overcame huge obstacles on his way to stardom. He contracted polio as a child, which led him to learn the harmonica while he was bedridden. He came from a family of Black musicians and his music created a link between the rural “Black hillbilly music” he learned living in Smith County, Tennessee, and the contemporary country music that was being formed on the Opry stage.

“He traveled throughout the South with Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe and Minnie Pearl and that gang there, and he was the star of the show,” said his grandson Carlos DeFord Bailey.

In 1927, Bailey’s performance of “Pan American Blues,” in which his harmonica imitated the sound of a rolling locomotive, helped inspire the name “Grand Ole Opry,” and he was the first musician to hold a major recording session in Nashville in 1928. Despite his success and popularity, Bailey faced racism during the Jim Crow Era of segregation in the South, especially while touring with other white Opry members.

“He wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things that the other artists were able to do, like going to restaurants, going into the hotels, using the bathrooms,” said his grandson. “He had to sleep in the car from time to time.”

Bailey performed on the Opry for about 16 years until 1941 when a dispute between the Opry and the performing rights organization ASCAP created a rift. The Opry management forbade Bailey from performing his songs that were licensed through ASCAP, including listener favorites like “Fox Chase.” When he refused, the Opry fired him.

Bailey retired from playing professionally and channeled his attention to a second career as the owner of a shoe-shine parlor in Nashville. His grandson remembers spending Saturdays at the parlor and recalls that his grandfather often dressed very dapper — wearing suits underneath his overalls to protect them from stains.

Bailey’s impact on country music was overlooked or whitewashed from the history books for decades. Acuff, for example, argued publicly shortly after Bailey’s death that Bailey’s music didn’t rise to the level of other Country Music Hall of Fame members like himself.

An author named David Morton wrote the definitive biography on Bailey in 1991 that finally led to recognition for the musical pioneer and acknowledgement of the racism he endured.

In 2005, Bailey was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. And last year, the Opry issued a statement and apology for its role in racism within country music, including using blackface performers during the early decades and its firing of Bailey.

Carlos DeFord Bailey, who followed in his grandfather’s footsteps as musician and as a shoe-shiner, said he appreciates the steps taken by the Opry to recognize its mistakes.

“The Grand Ole Opry has gotten younger and they believe in doing the right thing,” said Bailey. “And it’s opened the doors for a lot of people of color.”

In addition to the street renaming, a new edition of Morton’s biography will be released this June — complete with a new forward, more illustrations and a complete recording session discography. Carlos DeFord Bailey believes the moves will help keep Bailey’s legacy alive for a new generation.

“I think a lot more people will hear about him and and will learn about him,” he said.

National News

FILE - A logging truck drives on the Interstate 5 bridge that spans the Columbia River and connects...

Associated Press

Aging bridges in 16 states will be improved or replaced with the help of $5B in federal funding

Dozens of aging bridges in 16 states will be replaced or improved with the help of $5 billion in federal grants announced Wednesday by President Joe Biden’s administration, the latest beneficiaries of a massive infrastructure law. The projects range from coast to coast, with the largest providing an additional $1.4 billion to help replace two […]

48 minutes ago

President Joe Biden speaks at a 2024 Prosperity Summit Tuesday, July 16, 2024, in North Las Vegas, ...

Associated Press

Biden aims to cut through voter disenchantment as he courts Latino voters at Las Vegas conference

LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Joe Biden is trying to shore up support among disenchanted voters key to his reelection chances as he meets Wednesday with members of a Latino civil rights organization in the battleground state of Nevada. Biden is set to deliver an address to the UnidosUS annual conference in Las Vegas, where […]

51 minutes ago

FILE - The Mirage Hotel and Casino is seen in Las Vegas, on May 3, 2018. Gambling ends Wednesday, J...

Associated Press

After reshaping Las Vegas, The Mirage to be reinvented as part of a massive Hard Rock makeover

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Mirage is about to vanish from the Las Vegas Strip. Gambling ends and the doors close Wednesday at the iconic tropical island-themed hotel-casino that opened in 1989 with a fire-spewing volcano outside, and Siegfried & Roy’s lions and dolphins inside. Frenzied final days have seen standing-room crowds wagering to win […]

5 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump arrives during the second day of th...

Associated Press

The stepped-up security around Trump is apparent, with agents walling him off from RNC crowds

MILWAUKEE (AP) — On the floor of the Republican National Convention Tuesday evening, vice presidential candidate JD Vance greeted and shook hands with excited delegates as he walked toward his seat. It was a marked contrast from former President Donald Trump, who entered the hall a few minutes later and was separated from supporters by […]

5 hours ago

Texas delegates cheer during the Republican National Convention, Tuesday, July 16, 2024, in Milwauk...

Associated Press

What to watch as the Republican National Convention enters its third day in Milwaukee

MILWAUKEE (AP) — The third day of the Republican National Convention kicks off Wednesday with Republicans — led by the newly nominated Donald Trump and JD Vance — shifting to issues of national security and foreign policy. Republicans are expected to focus on Democratic President Joe Biden’s handling of the ongoing crises in Europe and […]

6 hours ago

FILE - Activists with Black Lives Matter protest in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Tuesday, J...

Associated Press

‘I can’t breathe’: Eric Garner remembered on the 10th anniversary of his chokehold death

NEW YORK (AP) — Wednesday marks 10 years since the death of Eric Garner at the hands of New York City police officers made “I can’t breathe” a rallying cry. Bystander video showed Garner gasping the phrase while locked in a police chokehold and spurred Black Lives Matter protests in New York and across the […]

6 hours ago

Nashville to name street after ‘Harmonica Wizard,’ Opry founder DeFord Bailey