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


DeFord: "Uncle Dave Macon was the Opry's favorite performer, and I was the second."Opry Years
Getting on the Opry
Playing on the Opry
Going on Tour
Leaving the Opry

WSM Grand Ole OpryGetting on the Opry

On October 5, 1925, a new broadcast station, WSM, went on the air. The station, which was created by the National Life and Accident Insurance Company, was interested in presenting a first-class image so it hired George D. Hay, one of America's most popular announcers. Hay (who was nicknamed Judge Hay) had a fondness for folk music and had started a variety program known as "The National Barn Dance" while working at WLS in Chicago. Shortly after he arrived in Nashville, Hay aired a similar program with a local champion fiddler named Uncle Jimmy Thompson. The show received a huge response. On December 27, 1925, WSM and Judge Hay sent out a press release announcing that WSM would begin a regular broadcast of an hour or two of old familiar tunes — a show that became known as "The Barn Dance," and later the "Grand Ole Opry."

DeFord holding a harmonica and photograph of the Pan American Express. COURTESY OF DAVID MORTON PERSONAL COLLECTIONNashville was home to another radio station that started in the fall of 1925. WDAD went on the air a few months earlier than WSM and was operated by a local radio supply store called Dad's. Pop Exum, the manager of the store and one of DeFord's biggest fans, made DeFord a regular on WDAD. Pop had met DeFord at an auto accessory store that he had managed prior to Dad's and where DeFord would come to buy auto parts for his bicycle. Another one of Dad's regulars was Dr. Humphrey Bate, a country doctor who also played the harmonica. Dr. Bate's band, later called the Possum Hunters, played on both WDAD and WSM. When Dr. Bates heard DeFord play, he insisted that DeFord join him on WSM's new Saturday night "Barn Dance" program. One night, DeFord agreed to come and played on that evening's show without an audition. The show's announcer, Judge Hay, liked DeFord so much he asked him to perform regularly from that point forward. >>

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)


Opry Years
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