On the Country Music Foundation produced three-CD box set, country's black heritage finally garners long deserved recognition for their significant participation in the genre professing to be Amercia's music.
Deford Bailey, country's first black star, was known as "The Harmonica Wizard" during his nearly 20 years as a member of the Garnd Ole Opry. Several of his signature songs appear on the set, including his unforgettable 1927 hit "Pan American Blues" and "Fox Chase," recorded live at the Opry in 1939.
Bailey's three cuts are on the first disc, "The Stringband Era." Other performers include America's first integrated band, Taylor's Kentucky Boys ("Gray Eagle"), The Memphis Sheiks ("In The Jailhouse Now") and Charlie McCoy and Bo Chatman's "Corinne Corinna." Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, is represented with oft-covered "Midnight Special" and "Rock Island Line."
Disc two, "The Soul Country Years," features a litany of R & B artists covering country, several recorded in a country vein. The Supremes keep Floyd Tillman's "It Makes No Difference Now" solidly country, while Ray Charles jazzes up Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On." Highlights include Al Green's superlative "For The Good Times" and Joe Hinton's stellar cover of Willie Nelson's "Funny How Time Slips Away." Big Al Downing's rockabilly "Down On The Farm" and Fats Domino's "You Win Again" feature splendid piano stylings while Etta James' deep-throated "Almost Persuaded" and The Staple Singers' "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" illustrate the levels to which country vocalization can be taken.
"Forward With Pride," the third disc, highlights more contemporary offerings, led by country's leading black star, Charley Pride. His four cuts, including "The Snakes Crawl At Night" and "Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'," stand out. The Pointer Sisters' "Fairytale," Stoney Edwards' "She's My Rock," and Barrence Whitfield's take on Merle Haggard's tale of interracial love, "Irma Jackson," show African-Americans can indeed perform well in the white-dominated world of country music. While the 60 tunes should enlighten and educate, most of all they will entertain. This one is indeed one heck of a fine collection.