Nashville Street Named After Country Music Pioneer DeFord Bailey

    *The legacy of DeFord Bailey, one of country music’s pioneers, will live on forever in Nashville, Tennessee.

    A street has been named after the “Harmonica Wizard” in the heart of the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville, where Bailey grew up. The newly named DeFord Bailey Avenue was dedicated to the artist on May 20, thanks to an effort spearheaded by his grandson Carlos DeFord Bailey.

    “This is where it all began, right here at the lot you’re standing in,” the younger Bailey said while visiting the corner of 12th Avenue South and Edgehill Avenue, where an apartment complex once stood, 90.3 WPLN-FM reports.

    “This is where he last resided at, in this high rise here. When he would come down and sit out on the lawn, he had lots of friends, and he would sit there and blow the harmonica for ‘em and everything,” Carlos Bailey added.

    DeFord Bailey was stricken with polio as a child and was bedridden.

    “He could make the harmonica talk.”

    That talent Bailey developed as a child would get him on 1920s radio and made him a hit not just the first Black star, but the first star on the Grand Ole Opry. #MusicCity

    — Dee “AdvocacyArena”(Nature lover) (@DesiaDesigns) May 23, 2023

    According to Carlos, his grandfather operated a shoeshine shop across the street from where his family lived. 

    “His shoeshine shop was about right where that building is,” the recalled while pointing at the newly constructed residential complex for veterans, Victory Hall, per 90.3 WPLN-FM. “And he was open six days a week. And my job was when I showed up was to prep the shoes.”

    The road to stardom was not easy for the elder Bailey. As ABC News reports, he learned the harmonica while bedridden after contracting polio as a child. DeFord Bailey inspired the name “Grand Ole Opry” after his 1927 performance of “Pan American Blues,” in which he imitated a rolling locomotive with his harmonica. 

    Despite his popularity, the musician faced racism in the South during the Jim Crow Era of segregation, especially while touring with other white Opry members.

    “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 Carlos.

    David C. Morton, with the assistance of Charles K. Wolfe, published an in-depth book on Bailey’s life and career nearly a decade after his death in 1982.

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