My friend, 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 eldest, 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 latter of which appeared on his latest CD "McDonald Craig Sings Traditional Country Music" released sometime in 2001.
In 1978 McDonald went to Meridian, Mississippi for the Annual Jimmie Rodgers Yodeling Championship. He beat out 72 contestants for First Place, making him the first and only African-American Yodeler to ever win that honor. According to his wife, Rosetta Craig, the Musuem curators did not want to award him, but the Judges, whom they had commissioned from California, insisted. The Museum gave in but McDonald was denied the full honors [a photo and plaque placed in the Museum] that were normally bestowed on prior winners. Undaunted, McDonald humbly accepted his win and the noteriety from that further enhanced his appeal as moved on.
His original Cassette Album "McDonald Craig Sings My Home In Tennessee & 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 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. This was followed up in 2002 by a Roughshod Records Special Project CD release, "Three Country Music Yodelers, Who Just Happen To Be Black," featuring two cuts each by him, Stoney Edwards, and Mike Johnson.
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. They paid off the debt in two years. McDonald and wife Rosetta, of 49 years, still reside on the historic property. Though he still picks and sings, McDonald doesn't do much out of state performing anymore.
When it comes to pure Traditional Country Music, McDonald Craig is the real deal.
This video is from some of the archival footage that my late friend Alex Kennedy had given me in hopes that I would somehow keep the music going.
Mike Johnson, Roughshod Records