Margaret Archer Bailey passes

On Sunday, August 15, 2021, Margaret Archer Bailey passed away peacefully at home at the age of 67. 

Margaret Bailey is best known for her clear, crystalline vocals as the principal lead singer in the internationally recognized Cluster Pluckers, from the Upper Cumberland area of Tennessee. 

Bailey befriended Kris Ballinger and her husband Dale in the Spring of 1980, and they started singing together at a pickin’ party. 

That same year they all became part of fiddler Frazier Moss’s String Band. Among the many notable appearances together was one at the Folklife Festival Exhibition during the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Bailey and Kris Ballinger developed their musical career further and in the fall of 1987 the duo sang vocal harmony on a Vassar Clements Hillbilly Jazz Band album.

I Hear The South….. 

They toured the country and performed on The Nashville Network (TNN) TV shows Nashville Now and New Country. 

The Cluster Pluckers were formed during 1988 and soon became popular regulars at Nashville’s Station Inn. Also, they appeared across the country at bluegrass and folk music festivals, city festivals, outdoor concerts, conventions and various clubs. 


The group earned further exposure through appearances on other TNN shows, on The Statler Brothers Easter Special, Reno’s Old Time Music Festival Television show on the Americana Television Network; on two PBS shows Austin City Limits, with Chet Atkins, and Songs of the Civil War with Hoyt Axton; and Rider’s Radio Theater, the National Public Radio show with Riders in the Sky 

The Yellow Rose Of Texas/Oh I’m A Good Old Rebel features Axton with John Hartford, Margaret Baily; Kris and Dale Ballinger; and fellow Cluster Plucker Mark Howard (guitar) ….   

Bailey’s work with TNN inspired the co-writing (with Chet Atkins) of the song Would Jesus Wear A Rolex?, which was recorded by Ray Stevens and was nominated for a Grammy Award.

Other performance highlights included entertaining during inauguration festivities for President Bill Clinton in Washington DC, for a fundraiser for Clinton and Vice President Al Gore at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, and at Tipper Gore’s birthday party at the Ryman Auditorium. 

Internationally, they toured Europe – playing in Holland and Norway – and did a sold-out 10-day, eight-city tour of Japan. 

Over a period of about a decade the Cluster Pluckers recorded five albums.  One of which was the collection of traditional Gospel classics …. Sweet Hour Of Prayer

The Cluster Pluckers, whose name was given to them by singer/songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler, disbanded during the mid-2000s when they started slowing down and only played a few gigs a year.

In sharing news of Bailey’s passing Kris Ballinger said this of her very close friend … 

“Margaret was beautiful, talented, quick-witted, funny, and a fantastic singer. She was my music partner, my sister from another mother, my fellow bandmate in several different bands, including The Cluster Pluckers. I loved singing with her and spending time with her. We had over 40 years of music and friendship, adventures and laughter, and life will never be the same without her.”

She also provided this photo montage ….

R.I.P., Margaret Archer Bailey 

A Discography 

Cluster Pluckers 

Cluster Pluckers (Cluster Pluckers CP 8901CD, released in 1989)

  • Just Pluck It (Cluster Pluckers CD 9202, 1992)
  • Bluegrass Gospel Favorites (Chapel GHD 5334, September 15, 1995) aka Old Time Gospel Favorites (Chapel CMD 5337) (reissued in 2002; Green Hill GHD 5334 Bluegrass Gospel Favorites)
  • Unplucked (Cluster Pluckers CP 9503, 1995)
  • Cluster Pluckers Christmas Album (Cluster Pluckers CP 498, November 1998)

Vassar Clements

  • And His Hillbilly Jazz (Shikata Records SR-101, 1988) (re-issued in 2005 with some additional tracks recorded in Japan; Shikata Records SRCD-1001 (Japan)) 

John Hartford and the Hartford String Band

  • Down On The River (Flying Fish FF 70514, 1989) 

Various Artists

  • Songs of the Civil War (Columbia CK 48607, August 13, 1991) 
  • The All-Night Gang: Bluegrass from Nashville (Rebel CD 1693, 1992)

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About the Author

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.