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Country music has had only a handful of Black stars, with Charley Pride, Stoney Edwards and Deford Bailey being the most notable. Pride endured much open racism early in his career. Many TV audiences were shocked to realize that the songs they enjoyed were performed by a black man. Pride became the second black member of the Grand Ole Opry in 1993 (he had declined an invitation to join in 1968). He is considered a major influence on traditionalists today. Country music has also influenced the work of many black musicians such as Ray Charles, Keb' Mo' , Esther Phillips and Cowboy Troy.



African-American influences in Country Music can be documented at least as far back as the 1920s. Harmonica ace, DeFord Bailey, appeared on the Grand Ole Opry stage in 1926. Whites and blacks in rural communities in the South played in stringbands.



The Black Country Music Association, headed by Frankie Staton, and located in Nashville, provides a forum for and gives visibility to credible black artists. By assembling a network and building an infrastructure previously lacking, it gives African-American performers a place to turn to for advice and education in the music business.



The Black Experience: From Where I Stand, is an album that presents 52 black artists' contributions to country music and includes not only African-American artists primarily known for their contributions to the blues, but those such as Charley Pride and Cleve Francis, who identified themselves solely as country artists.



"My Country, The African Diaspora's Country Music Heritage" by Pamela E. Foster chronicles African-American involvement in Country Music from its humble beginnings. Published in 1998, this most definitive 378-page study with its detailed discography shows that African-Americans were also musicians, singers, songwriters, record label managers & owners, radio station owners and executives and other related positions. For instance, while Charley Pride is Country's first Super Star, BeFord Bailey was the first star. He was the first African-American member of the Grand Ole Opry, a tenure that lasted from 1926 to 1941. In 2005 he became the last founding member of the Grand Ole Opry to be 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 during the 1930s. His self-penned "I'm A Happy Cowboy" was his movie theme song. Later he made a name for himself on the Duke Ellington recording "Flamingo" as the lead singer, and with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra and The Mills Brothers. In 1995 Warner Western released Jeffries' Country Album "The Bronze Buckaroo." Between 1948 and 1959, Henry Glover produced hundreds of Country artists like Moon Mullican, Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, The Delmore Brothers and Jimmie Osborne on the King Record Label in Cincinnati, Ohio.



McDonald Craig of Linden, Tennessee is a first-rate Jimmie Rodgers Yodeler. He was born in 1932 into a Country/Traditional music household and 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 oldest, 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 a 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 Old Guitar," and "I'll Never Go To Sleep Alone." He also wrote songs, like "My Home In Tennessee," and "Childhood Memories," the later which appears on his CD "McDonald Craig Sings Traditional Country Music."



In 1978 McDonald went to Meridian, Mississippi for the Annual Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Championship. This was when the new Jimmie Rodgers Postal Stamp was about to go on sale. McDonald beat out 72 contestants for First Place, also becoming the first and only African-American Yodeler to ever win that honor. His original Cassette Album "McDonald Craig Sings My Home In Tennessee and Other Old Time Country Favorites" was re-mastered to CD in 2001 by Roughshod Records and released as "Yodeling McDonald Craig," the first of their Special Projects Promotional releases. In 2002 he was featured on Roughshod Records Special Project release "Three Country Music Yodelers, Who Just Happen To Be Black," featuring two cuts each by him, Stoney Edwards, and Mike Johnson. And in 2000 he appeared in the "1999 Sonny Rodgers Yodelers Paradise Show" Video filmed by Roughshod Records' Mike Johnson at the 1999 Avoca, Iowa Old Time Country Music Festival.



A crowd favorite with traditionalists wherever he played McDonald is as pure Country as you can get, performing from Texas to Tennessee, Iowa and Nebraska, at numerous State Fairs, Folk-life Festivals and radio stations. He has been a longstanding member of the National Traditional Country Music Association based in Anita, Iowa and is also an inductee in the Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2005, the State of Tennessee's Century Farms Program certified the 73-year old McDonald Craig's 110-acre farm as an Official Century Farm for having been in the same family for more than 100 years. It was purchased for $400 with a yoke of oxen as a down payment by his ex-slave great-grandparents, Tapp and Amy Craig on Christmas Day in 1871; which they paid off in two years. McDonald and wife Rosetta, of 46 years, still reside on the historic property. Though McDonald doesn't perform much out of state anymore, if you listen real close you can hear the echoes of his yodels in middle Tennessee.



In 1969 Linda Martel became the first Black Female Country performer to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. She was signed to Plantation Records by Shelby Singleton and made 12 Opry appearances. She appeared on TV's "Hee-Haw" and charted 3 Billboard Singles before quitting in 1974 and returning to her home in South Carolina.



Ruby Falls charted 9 Billboard singles between 1974 and 1979 on 50-States Record Label. She was voted Country's Most Promising Female Vocalist in 1975 by the country 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.



Berry "MoTown" Gordy launched the Country Music career of T.G. Sheppard with "Devil In A bottle" on his Melodyland Records in 1974. The first of four No.1's for Sheppard on that label. With Mike Curb at its helm, Gordy's M.C. Records produced 15 singles and 3 albums between 1977 and 1978 before Curb went on to found Curb Records.



In 1984, songwriter and music publisher, Thomas Cain went to work for BMI and later became their Vice President & Senior Director of Writer Publisher Relations. Hank Williams, Jr., George Strait, The Forrester Sisters, and Ronnie Milsap have recorded his own songs. Cain's publishing company, Candy Cane Music's catalog also contains the songs "Wild & Blue," "Some Fools Never Learn," and "Cry, Cry, Cry."



Mike Johnson[1] is Country Music's No.1 Black Yodeler. His unique combinations of the Jimmie Rodgers and Swiss yodeling styles, along with being the most publicized, commercially recorded and consistently performing Black Yodeler firmly established him as such. Born on 13 June 1946, this Vietnam Veteran and retired trucker began performing during in the mid-1960s. His early influences were the Singing Movie Cowboys, but states he first learned to yodel by imitating Movie Tarzan, Johnny Weissmueller. Johnson has written over 1200 songs, including some 50-plus yodeling songs. "Black Yodel No.1" being the first of a series of wordless yodeling songs. Following his first Nashville recording session at Globe Studio in 1981 he went over to Champ Studio where he mentored under Jim Stanton, owner/founder of Nashville's Rich-R-Tone Records from 1983 until Stanton's untimely death in 1989. During the 1980s Mike started his own publishing company and record label and has over 15 releases, including several videos. His song "Did You Hug Your Mother Today?" became his first radio hit came in 1995 on Big John Baldry's Michigan Jamboree Radio Station and has become a consistent world-wide player on international country music radio stations, along with a number of his other songs. On September 1, 2002 the National Traditional Country Music Association inducted him into America's Old-Time Country Music Hall of Fame. His yodeling song "Yeah I'm A Cowboy" is one of 18 songs featured on the Rough Guide To Yodel CD releasing on 25 September 2006. One of several yodeling projects initiated by Bart Plantenga, Radio DJ, Music Historian and author of the 2004 best seller, "Yodel-Ay-Eee-Ooo, The Secret History of Yodeling Around the World," Johnson is also included in Plantenga's forthcoming book, "Yodeling In Hi-Fi."



Pamela E. Foster began researching and writing about social and economic issues in 1988. Inspired by her love of Country Music she moved to Nashville in 1993 and turned her attention to chronicling black contributions to the industry. Her many other works have also appeared in The Tennessean, the Nashville Banner, the Nashville Scene, Country Song Roundup, Country Weekly and other publications. Her 2000 follow-up book, "My Country, The Other Black Music" provides some updates regarding other African-Americans coming full circle back to their Country "roots."




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