On This Day #27 – Delia Bell

| April 16, 2014 | 0 Comments

On This Day ….

Delia BellOn 16 April circa 1938, Delia Bell (nee Delia Nowell) was born in Bonham, Texas.

As a child Bell relocated to Hugo, Oklahoma, and, inspired by the bluegrass music of the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe, she began singing in her teenage years. She learned to play the guitar during this period also.

In 1959 she married Bobby Bell, who had among his friends was one Bill Grant.

That same year Delia Bell and Bill Grant began to sing together, having met at a jam session, and soon they were regulars on the Little Dixie Hayride radio show on KIHN in Hugo, although, according to Bell, for years they just entertained friends predominantly.

In 1965 Grant began to play the mandolin.

The trigger for the next phase in their musical association came when the Grant family, inspired by their visits to Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival, decided to start their own festival, the Salt Creek Bluegrass Festival, on their ranch in Hugo. The first Salt Creek festival took place in August 1969 and Bill Grant and Delia Bell were on-stage hosts.

In 1970 the duo recorded two Bill Grant songs When the Angels Come for Me and Beneath the Old Pine Tree, the second of which featured Delia Bell’s extremely strong lead vocals. A reviewer likened her singing to an early Molly O’Day.

 

At this time the duo and their band, the Kiamichi Mountain Boys (basically the Bonham brothers), became very popular on the bluegrass festival circuit.

In 1971, Grant formed his own Kiamichi label and, during the 1970s, they released nine LPs.

Delia BellOn most of songs Bell sang tenor to Grant’s lead. However, her solo on her recording of Ruth Franks’ Roses In the Snow caught the attention of Emmylou Harris, who recorded it in July 1979 for her Warner Brothers LP of the same name.

In 1978 County Records released the first album bearing her own name only, Bluer Than Midnight (Co 768).

In the early 1980s the duo recorded for Rebel Records; the label released two albums.

In keeping with suggestions that were made to her that she should pursue a solo career in country, at Emmylou Harris’s instigation Delia Bell recorded an eponymous LP for Harris’s label Warner Brothers. The Harris-produced album was a an artistic success, mixing lesser-recorded older songs with some more contemporary, even if her hard-edged vocals were not what the wider public was used to hearing.

The single Flame In My Heart, featuring Delia Bell and country music star John Anderson both singing lead, reached the Top 50 of the Billboard Country Music Charts in 1983. Unfortunately, for Bell’s future good prospects, cost-cutting in the Warner Brothers organization led to the label terminating her contract before any further recordings were made.

Later in the decade they recorded three albums for Rounder Records. However, there was a significant change in their presentation as the label listed the LPs as by “Delia Bell & Bill Grant”, trying to cash in on Delia Bell’s higher profile.

In contrast to earlier recordings that featured many Bill Grant songs and hard-core traditional numbers, these releases featured newer songs like Hugh Moffit’s Jack and Lucy, Dave Evan’s Foggy Mountain Home, John D. Hutchison’s Silver Tongue and Gold Plated Lies and Hazel Dickens’ Won’t You Come and Sing for Me. Sadly, the self-dubbed Kiamichi Mountain Girl was limited by a Warner Bros contractual stipulation that limited her to only three or four leads per album.

The Grants continued their Salt Creek festival and in 1987 Delia Bell joined Bill Grant in promoting a March Early Bird Bluegrass Show, an event that would last nearly 20 years.

This longevity exemplified their partnership, which in various forms lasted from 1959 to 2006, when health problems caused the duo to slow down and finish singing together in May of that year.

Later recordings were for the Old Homestead label, who mixed releases of new recordings with re-issues of some of the duo’s Kiamichi Records material.

As well as being very popular on home territory Delia Bell and Bill Grant made 11 tours to England – where they recorded a 16-song traditional country music LP – and Ireland.

While not a prolific songwriter, Delia Bell did contribute to the writing of a few songs, including Your Letter’s Overdue

 

Selective Discography

  •  My Kiamichi Mountain Home (Kiamichi, 1976)
  • The Last Christmas Tree (Kiamichi, 1976)
  • Man in the Middle (Kiamichi, 1980)
  • The Blues Mountain Style (Kiamichi, 1988)
  • Bluer Than Midnight (County, 1978)
  • Bill Grant & Delia Bell (Rebel, 1980)
  • Rollin’ (Rebel, 1981)
  • Delia Bell (Warner Bros., 1983)
  • The Cheer of the Home Fires (Rounder, 1984)
  • A Few Dollars More (Rounder, 1986)
  • Following a Feeling (Rounder, 1988)
  • Dreaming (Rounder, 1997, compilation CD)

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.

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