A blog sponsored by the Michigan State University Museum's Michigan Traditional Arts Program, a partnership with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs. Sharing news and information about the Great Lakes Folk Festival, Quilt Index, the MSU Museum's traditional arts activities, Great Lakes traditional artists and arts resources, and much more. Development of content for this blog supported by funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Classic Performances from the 1989 Festival of Michigan Folklife: Wade and Julia Mainer- Old-Time Country Musicians


The legendary banjo picker Wade Mainer is perhaps most associated with his North Carolina mountain roots, where he developed his distinctive two-finger banjo picking style that set the stage for the three-finger bluegrass banjo styles of Snuffy Jenkins and Earl Scruggs. Throughout his life, Mainer maintained the distinction between the hard-driving bluegrass sound and his own tradition drawn from old-time hymns and ballads learned during his boyhood. Mainer had a successful recording and radio career, performing first with his brother J.E. in J.E. Mainer and the Crazy Mountaineers and then, beginning in 1936, with his own group, Sons of the Mountaineers. He married his wife, old-time country vocalist Julia Brown, in 1937, when she was performing on North Carolina radio as “Hillbilly Lilly.” Mainer quit the music business in 1953, and he and Julia joined the tide of Appalachian migrants moving to Michigan in search of jobs. The couple settled in Flint, where Wade worked for General Motors until his retirement in 1972. During this time he performed non-professionally, often in church. Beginning in the early 1970sas interest in old-time music experienced a revival―Mainer again began to perform the traditional country banjo tunes of his early career, as well as gospel songs and hymns. Accompanied by Julia, he played at numerous festivals and resumed his recording career with such labels as Old Homestead (based in Brighton, Michigan) and June Appal Records. When he died in 2011 at the age of 104, Wade Mainer had spent more years in his second home of Michigan than in his native North Carolina. He was the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, among them a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1987) and a Michigan Heritage Award from the Michigan State University Museum (1996).

 In 1989, videographer Gary McCuaig filmed these two performances at the Michigan State University Museum’s Festival of Michigan Folklife. Together, they capture the twin facets of Wade Mainer’s career.


The first, the banjo tune “Crick in the Water,” illustrates the two-finger banjo picking style that grew out of his North Carolina mountain roots.



The second, the old-time gospel song “I Can’t Sit Down,” illustrates his later career when he frequently sang religious songs with Julia.