Nashville Set To Rename Street After ‘Harmonica Wizard’ and Country Music Legend DeFord Bailey

Nashville Set To Rename Street After ‘Harmonica Wizard’ and Country Music Legend DeFord Bailey

One of country music’s pioneers, DeFord Bailey, will have his legacy live on forever in Nashville, Tennessee.

ABC News reports a street will be named after the “Harmonica Wizard,” DeFord Bailey, on May 20. The street will be named DeFord Bailey Avenue, dedicated to the Edgehill neighborhood of Nashville, where Bailey grew up. To honor his legacy, two of Bailey’s grandsons, Carlos DeFord Bailey and Herchel Bailey, are set to perform at a concert following the dedication.

More than 40 years after his death, Carlos and Herchel hope the street name will help keep Bailey’s legacy alive for a new generation of aspiring musicians, KTVZ reports.

Coming from a musical family, he overcame extreme obstacles to become a legend. After suffering from polio as a child, he learned to play the harmonica while bedridden. Using his skills, he combined rural “Black hillbilly music” and contemporary country music, often performed on the stage of Nashville’s historic Opry. The venue was renamed “Grand Ole Opry” after Bailey performed “Pan American Blues” in 1927. His harmonica gave off the sound of a moving locomotive, inspiring the name change.

Bailey often performed with country greats Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, and Minnie Pearl, but his grandson Carlos told ABC News he was often the show’s star. Facing racism during the Jim Crow Era, he didn’t let that stop him from touring with his white Opry members. “He wasn’t allowed to do a lot of things that the other artists were able to do, like going to restaurants, going into the hotels, using the bathrooms,” his grandson said.

Through it all, he continued to perform at Opry until 1941, after the venue had issues with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, a performing rights organization. They tried to ban him from performing ASCAP- licensed favorites like “Fox Chase,” and he was fired when he refused to do so.

Bailey’s contribution to the music genre was often “whitewashed” or removed from history books. It wasn’t until David Morton wrote the 1991 biography, almost 20 years after Bailey’s death, that he was finally recognized as a musical pioneer. The Opry issued an official statement and apology for its role in the racism experienced in country music in 2022.