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DeFORD BAILEY: A LEGEND LOST Photos of DeFord Bailey Courtesy of, L-R: Dennis Wile; Les Leverett; David Morton


(or Mouth Harp)


DeFord: "I learn something new about a harp every day or two. You never learn everything about one."

The Popular Harp

DeFord's youth coincided with what many historians call the height of harmonica popularity in the United States. Americans truly took the instrument to heart and peddlers and general stores throughout rural America could not keep the little instrument in stock. It was popular in all classes of society. It was small and portable, an understandable concern in a society when many settlers were still following the frontier. The instrument was also available in different keys, so it could be played with many instruments and singing styles.

DeFord's hands, holding a harmonica: PHOTO COPYRIGHT DENNIS WILE PHOTOGRAPHY

The harmonica, basically a ten-hole "free reed" instrument, can produce most of the notes on the scale by a combination of exhaling and inhaling. A performer can range over three octaves on the scale, but cannot reach all the notes or all the sharps or flats. A skillful player can "bend" certain notes through over-blowing and lip manipulation to pick up accidentals and gapped notes.

In the South, the harp was often used as a substitute for the fiddle in the string band. Many rural preachers considered the fiddle the "devil's box" and banned it from being played in church. Middle Tennessee has historically had a particularly strong aversion to the fiddle.

Source for the material in this section, including excerpts:
David C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star in Early Country Music (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991)






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