DeFord Bailey

Source: Country Music Hall of Fame

DeFord Bailey was an influential harmonica player in both country music and blues, one of the Grand Ole Opry’s most popular early performers, and country’s first African-American star.

Born December 14, 1899, into a farming family in rural Smith County, Tennessee, Bailey lost his mother soon thereafter, and his aunt Barbara and her husband, Clark Odum, became his foster parents. Polio, which struck Bailey at age three, stunted his growth and left his back somewhat bent, but what he lacked in physical stature he made up for in talent and determination. As he later explained to researcher David Morton, he began learning harmonica as a young child: “My folks didn’t give me no rattler, they gave me a harp.”

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