Early 1920's Music
family played tunes that were part of a rich tradition of string
band playing shared by both blacks and whites in the early nineteenth
|"White and blacks would be playing music and dancing
at what you'd call a barn danceyou clean the ground
off and put sawdust down on it and make it soft where you
can dance. Well, they'd look out and see the Baileys and
they'd say, Here come the Baileys, we'll turn the thing
over to them. They would usually have a fiddle, guitar, banjo,
harp, mandolin, and drums."
slavery times, musicians were highly valued. In fact, many slaves
were sent to New Orleans to train on the fiddle in order to entertain
at plantation dances. After emancipation, many of these fiddle players
kept their instruments and developed their own playing styles. DeFord's
grandfather, Lewis Bailey, was one of these musicians. He was a
champion fiddle player, considered "the best in Smith
County." DeFord learned much of his style and repertoire
from the early influences of his grandfather.
style of music, which DeFord later called black hillbilly music,
started to fade in the 1920's when the record companies came south
to record traditional music. For marketing purposes, the record
companies segregated music into white and black series. They believed
white people would buy only country music performed by white musicians
and that black people would buy only blues and gospel music performed
by black musicians.
a handful of black hillbilly musicians made commercial records in
the 1920's and 1930's. One such band, The Mississippi Sheiks, traveled
throughout the South and recorded dozens of sides for the Okeh label.
Lazy River is a tune that exemplifies their playing style.
though the Mississippi Sheiks made some early recordings, the younger
black musicians who grew up playing black hillbilly music quickly
learned that they needed to play the blues if they wanted to get
recorded. Slowly, the older black string bands began to disappear.
few surviving black string bands had a direct influence on many
of the classic country stars, including the Carter Family with Leslie
Riddle, Bill Monroe with Arnold Shultz, and Hank Williams with Rufus
"Tee-Tot" Payne. The black string band tradition is all
but extinct today. The last remnants can be heard in the music of
Joe and Odell Thompson from North Carolina, in the style of the
late John Jackson, in the driving fiddle of Howard Armstrong, and
occasionally in the work of Taj Mahal.
K. Wolfe "Hillbilly Fever, The Lost Tradition of Black String
Bands," No Depression, May/June 2002, p.112.
C. Morton with Charles K. Wolfe, DeFord Bailey: A Black Star
in Early Country Music (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee