- Charles K. Wolfe
Bailey, DeFord (14 December 1899–02 July 1982), musician, was born in Bellwood, Smith County, Tennessee, the son of John Henry Bailey and Mary Reedy, farmers. Bailey grew up in the rolling hills east of Nashville and as a child listened to what he later called “black hillbilly music” played by his family. His grandfather Lewis Bailey was a skilled fiddler who won numerous local championships, and a family string band often appeared at local fairs and dances. DeFord Bailey’s own fascination with the harmonica, an instrument that was especially popular in Middle Tennessee, resulted from a childhood illness. When he was three he was stricken with polio and was bedfast for several years; to amuse himself he practiced the harmonica. Lying in bed and listening to the distant sound of trains, hunting dogs, and barnyard animals, he became adept at working imitations of these into his playing, creating unorthodox “bent” notes and mouthing patterns that would later make his musical style unique. Bailey survived the disease, but it left him stunted and frail....