While Charley Pride is indisputably Country Music's First African-American Super Star, there have been many Black Country Artists before and after him who have been ignored, passed over, and overlooked by the Nashville clique. Back in 1983, Mike Johnson's friend, Jim Stanton, founder of Rich-R-Tone Records, bluntly told him that "Nashville isn't looking for another Charley Pride. They're still mad at Jack Clements and Chet Atkins over that!" Stanton's reflection of the Nashville elite's typical resistance to Black Country performers as opposed to the general public's acceptance of a good performer regardless of racial and ethnic background. Charley Pride was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.
Up until 1997, with the exception of Charles K. Wolfe's sketches in his broad-based writings, there has never been any deliberate works that specifically and totally focused on the actual involvement of African-Americans in Country Music. Enter PAMELA E. FOSTER, an award winning journalist and researcher, and her enlightening 1998 book, "My Country, The African Diaspora's Country Music Heritage."
Pamela E. Foster is a native daughter of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and grew up listening to and enjoying country music. She began writing about social and economic issues in 1988 and moved to Nashville in 1993 to write about Black Country Music contributions. Armed with an Undergraduate Degree in Economics, a Master's Degree in Journalism, she earned numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize Nomination. Along with the New Pittsburgh Courier and the Business First of Columbus, she has also written for the Nashville Banner, The Tennessean, The Nashville Business Journal, The Nashville Scene, Country Song Roundup, and Country Weekly. Since 2007, Pamela has been researching and compiling information for a book about her family's southern roots and northern migration after the Civil War.
TELLING THE REST OF THE STORY:
“My Country, The African Diaspora's Country Music Heritage” is a most definitive study. Its detailed discography blew away the longstanding myth that African-Americans "did not like, did not perform, and did not want to perform country music." Ms. Foster shows that African American contributions went far beyond being that of being mere musical "influences," as is often presented in other works in which they were given minimum mention. This 350-plus page book provides substantiated information that African-Americans were in fact involved in Country Music from the beginning as musicians, singers, songwriters, and later as Producers, Radio DJs, Music Publishers and Executives. Her follow-up book, "My Country Too, The Other Black Music!" hit the shelves as a paperback in 2000. Both of these books are very informative, musically and historically important, and available from Borders Books and other outlets.
DeFord Bailey is Country Music's First African-American Star. Known as "The Harmonica Wizard" he performed on the Grand Ole Opry from 1926 to 1941 and was also on the very first recording sessions held in Nashville in 1928. He toured with Roy Acuff, The Delmore Brothers, Uncle Dave Macon, and The McGhee Brothers. His dismissal from the Grand Ole Opry Cast by George D. Hay who cites him as "their mascot" and "lazy like other members of his race..." strongly contradicts recorded documentation stating that Bailey was the Opry's main draw during his membership! Many first-hand accounts indicate that it was more about the eventual royalties they were going to have to pay him for his recordings. Bailey opened a Shoe Shine Parlor and only made scattered public performances afterwards. In 2005 DeFord Bailey, the last member of the original Grand Ole Opry Cast was finally Inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame.
Herb Jeffries sang and yodeled his way across the Silver Screen as the first and only Black Singing Movie Cowboy, starring in four feature length All-Black Cast Westerns in the 1930s. His self-penned song I'M A HAPPY COWBOY was his movie theme song. Later on, this Pinkney, Michigan native made a name for himself on the Duke Ellington recording "Flamingo" on which he sang lead, and with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, The Mills Brothers and his own band. In 1995 Warner Western, released a Jeffries Country Album entitled "The Bronze Buckaroo" featuring guest appearances by the likes of Take-6, Cleve Francis, Little Texas, and Michael Martin Murphy. Jeffries was 85 years old at the time.
Ivory Joe Hunter has often been described as a Blues artist but his country roots go back to the early 1930s when he played Texas Honky Tonks. He recorded his first country songs GUESS WHO? and JEALOUS HEART on King Records in 1949. Many of his songs like SINCE I MET YOU BABY and EMPTY ARMS were recorded by artists like Charlie Rich, Conway Twitty, and Sonny James.
Henry Glover was born on 21 May 1921 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Between 1948 & 1959 he produced hundreds of Country artists, including Moon Mullican, Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, The Delmore Brothers and Jimmie Osborne on King Record Label in Cincinnati, Ohio. He passed away on 7 April 1991 after a long successful career as a producer and songwriter.
In 1969 Linda Martell became the first Black Female Country performer to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. She was signed by Plantation Records' Shelby Singleton, made 12 Opry appearances, appeared on "Hee Haw" and charted 3 Billboard Singles before Jim Crow's interference with her touring caused her to quit in 1974.
Oklahoma's native son, Stoney Edwards, also part Seminole Indian, born 24 December 1929, is one of the best Country voices ever. His career finally began to take hold when he opened for Bob Wills at a 1970 concert in Oakland, California. He played in Wills band briefly and went on to release 8 albums on Capitol Records and chart 15 Billboard Singles between 1971 and 1977. He wrote many of his hits, including A TWO DOLLAR TOY, THE FISHING SONG, and I BOUGHT THE SHOES THAT JUST WALKED OUT ON ME. He toured the Southwest with his then unknown band, "Asleep At The Wheel" and passed away on 6 April 1997.
Ruby Falls charted 9 Billboard Singles between 1974 and 1979 on the 50 States Records label. She was voted as Country's Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1975 by country industry trade media. She toured with Justin Tubb and performed with Faron Young, Del Reeves, Narvel Felts, and Jeanne Pruett, to mention a few. She was born Bertha Dorsey in January 1946 and passed away in June 1986.
Between 1972 and 1987 O.B. McClinton recorded for both Mercury and Epic Records, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, and charted 15 Billboard Singles, the biggest of these, MY WHOLE WORLD IS FALLING DOWN, and DON'T LET THE GREEN GRASS FOOL YOU.
Berry "Motown" Gordy also owned five country labels. Miracle, Melody, Melodyland, Hitsville, and M.C. Records. He launched the Country Music career of T.G. Sheppard with DEVIL IN THE BOTTLE, on Melodyland Records in 1974 and the top of the Billboard Country Chart in February 1975. This was followed by antother chart topper, TRYIN’ TO BEAT THE DEVIL HOME four months later, and two more top 10 hits; MOTELS AND MEMORIES and SHOW ME A MAN. What is not often mentioned is that Mike Curb was hired to run Gordy’s 4th label, M.C. Records. It would put out 15 singles and 3 albums between September 1977 and August 1978 but didn’t fare too well. The three recorded albums were never released and Curb would go on to found Curb Records. He has also refused to talk about his experience with Gordy’s label.
In 1984, songwriter & music publisher, Thomas Cain went to work for BMI and later became their Vice President & Senior Director of Writer Publisher relations. His own songs have been recorded by Hank Jr., George Strait, The Forester Sisters, and Ronnie Milsap. Cain's Publishing Company, Candy Cane Music's catalog also contains the songs WILD AND BLUE, SOME FOOLS NEVER LEARN, and CRY, CRY, CRY.
Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter wrote GOOD NIGHT IRENE, ROCK ISLAND LINE, COTTON FIELDS, MIDNIGHT SPECIAL, and many other country songs. However, the commercial music industry's perpetuation of the Jim Crow attitudes [not the Black and White musicians] during that era caused the racial separation of the music irregardless of the fact that most of these rural people mutually shared the same environmental and life experiences from which their songs sprang! Leadbelly had more than 200 releases on early labels like Capitol Records [with the help of Tex Ritter] Bluebird, Disc, Asch, and Stinson, along with an Award of Merit from the Oklahoma Folklore Society. He passed away in his sixties from Lou Gehrig's disease in 1949.
Howdy Glenn was born in the early 1950s and raised in Detroit, Michigan. He made his mark on the Southern California club circuit during the 1970s. This led to a record deal with Warner Bros. Records, from which came two singles, TOUCH ME in 1977, and YOU MEAN THE WORLD TO ME, both of which peaked on the Billboard Country Chart at No.62 & No.72 respectively. The song I CAN ALMOST SEE HOUSTON, released on an independent label became a hit in California and the California Country & Western Music Association awarded him their Most Promising Male Vocalist Award and named him a finalist in its Entertainer of the Year category. Though he was very popular, he kept his "day job" as a firefighter at the Inglewood Fire Department.
McDonald Craig 1999 Old Time Country Music Festival, Avoca, Iowa.
McDonald Craig of Linden, Tennessee is a first-rate Jimmie Rodgers Yodeler. He was born in the early Depression Years of 1932 into a Country-Traditional music household when 78rpm spring-wound RCA Victrolas ruled the day. He performed throughout Perry and Harvard counties with his parents and four siblings during the 1940s and early 1950s. He is the second oldest of seven children. His father Newt Craig was a fiddler who played mountain square dance music and his mother Conna McDonald Craig was a piano player who played everything from popular to mountain music. While the Craig children played music as a family band, McDonald and his older brother Newt Jr. played the least while growing up. Being the eldest, they worked to help the family meet its financial obligations.
At the age of 20 McDonald left Linden to join the U.S. Army and was assigned to a Gunnery Unit in Korea where he earned the Bronze Star. When he returned from Korea Mac stayed with his parents and continued to work the farm. He also returned to his music, brushing up on the old standards and particularly the songs of his favorites, Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb.
Sometime during the mid-1960s McDonald landed a spot on Nashville's Gold Standard Records and had four singles released by them; I WANT TO TELL YOU, BUCKEYE OHIO, YOU AND MY GUITAR, and I'LL NEVER GO TO SLEEP ALONE.
In 1978 McDonald went to Meridian, Mississippi for the Annual Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Championship. He beat out 72 contestants for First Place, making him the first and only African-American Yodeler to ever win that honor. According to his wife, Rosetta Craig, the Musuem curators did not want to award him, but the Judges, music business officials whom they had commissioned from California, insisted. The Museum reluctantly awarded him 1st. Place but denied McDonald the full honors [a photo and plaque placed in the Museum] that were normally bestowed on prior winners. Undaunted by the incident, McDonald humbly accepted his win and moved on. The notoriety from his win further enhanced his appeal and requests to perform at different festivals across the country kept him pretty busy.
At the 1999 Avoca Old Time Country Music Festival, McDonald gave his new friend, Mike Johnson, an autographed copy of his Cassette Album "McDonald Craig Sings My Home In Tennessee and Other Old Time Country Favorites." MY HOME IN TENNESSE was written by Mac.
Johnson really felt honored by the gift though he was troubled by the fact that like so many other genuine older independent country artists Mac never received the full recognition he deserved. Craig was also featured in Cactus Moon Video’s "1999 Sonny Rodgers Yodelers Paradise Show" Video filmed at the 1999 Avoca, Iowa Old Time Country Music Festival by Mike Johnson.
The following year Mike made a bold decision and asked Mac if he could produce the “Home In Tennessee” cassette on CD. Released in 2001 as "Yodeling McDonald Craig" thus was born the first of Roughshod Records' Special Projects Promotional releases.