'Music City Shoe Shine Man' continues legacy of grandfather, an - WSMV News 4

'Music City Shoe Shine Man' continues legacy of grandfather, an Opry legend

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Carlos DeFord Bailey says he's carrying on the legacy of his grandfather. (WSMV) Carlos DeFord Bailey says he's carrying on the legacy of his grandfather. (WSMV)

One man has tasked himself with carrying on the legacy of a close relative, one who played a vital role in Nashville's formation as Music City.

"Sir, would you want a regular or spit shine?" asked Carlos DeFord Bailey, as a customer took his seat at the little parlor in the Woodmont Building.

Nashville was coming in to work Thursday morning. Before some headed up to a meeting, they came to see Bailey, the "Music City Shoe Shine Man."

"There's the first coat," said Bailey, starting to polish the customer's black shoes. "I know you're going to try this at home. Don't try it. You're going to burn your shoe. My grandfather taught me if you have a job you really love, you never work a hard day in your life. I've been doing it since I was a kid."

Growing up in that grandfather's shoe shine parlor, Bailey has the tools, the know-how to a perfect shine.

"He taught me to shine," Bailey said. "He started me with the brush. It's just like waxing a car."

"He made this shoeshine box when he was 14 years old," he continued, holding up an old wooden box. "I put all my polish in it. This box has to be now well over 100 years old."

That grandfather taught him to get the perfect shine always in seven minutes flat.

"I tell 'em, if it don't gloss, it don't cost," Bailey smiled. "If it don't shine, it don't cost a dime. Same shine as last time."

Not everyone who steps up to his chair knows just who is Bailey's grandfather.

"He played harmonica and banjo, he was known as the harmonica wizard," he said.

DeFord Bailey was born in 1899 in the Bellwood community of Smith County.

"Rather than giving him a pacifier when he was crying, they gave him a harmonica," Bailey said. "He had polio. They said he would never walk. He proved them wrong."

Mimicking the sound of an L&N Railroad train that passed his Smith County home on harmonica, DeFord Bailey brought his sound to WSM Radio, the first performer to be introduced on the Grand Ole Opry.

Hitting the road, Bailey said life wasn't easy for his grandfather, being a black performer in the 20s and 30s.

"I think that was back when they called it the 'Jim Crow days,'" Bailey said. "He endured a lot. He wasn't able to go in the front door with the musicians. Couldn't eat with them."

Bailey said fellow musicians sometimes came up with a solution.

"They had a suitcase big enough for my grandfather to fit in," he laughed. "They would sneak him up to the hotel rooms."

Bailey said he's playing historian, doing his best to do his grandfather's legacy proud.

"I shine by day and sing by night," he said, gearing up for a gig at Alley Taps on Printers Alley. "I think it's very important to let them know who he was, what he was about and even what he endured. He stood tall."

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