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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
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Courtesy of Wade and Julia Mainer

Wade and Julia Mainer
1996 awardee, Flint (Genesee County), Old-time Appalachian musicians

Wade and Julia Mainer have done what all great folk artists have always done: they received their music from earlier generations, gave it their own special shape and stamp, and passed it on to younger musicians. They have played exemplary roles in preserving old-time Appalachian music and hold a special place in southern musical history.

As a fine singer and guitar player, Julia had her own radio program in the 1930s. A deeply religious woman, Julia specializes in gospel songs. In addition to solo work, she has served as Wade's guitarist in concerts and on records for almost 25 years. She also sings harmony with him.

Wade, a living legend of traditional mountain music, grew up in a musical family from his birth on April 2, 1907. He learned to play the banjo, which became his specialty, by watching local musicians at Saturday night barn dances. In the 1930s he began his musical career, joining with his older brother, J. E., to form the string band Mainer's Mountaineers. He soon formed his own group, Sons of the Mountaineers, and continued to record and work in radio until 1953 when he moved to Flint to work for General Motors. Wade's large recorded repertoire in the 1930s served as a bridge between the older mountain music and the Bluegrass style of the 1940s and 1950s. He was one of three musicians who kept the five-string banjo and its old-time repertoire in the public eye through records and the radio until the arrival of musicians such as Earl Scruggs.

During the early 1950s, Wade and Julia gave up musical entertainment, singing only in religious services. Persuaded years later that the banjo and gospel music were compatible, they returned to public performance, and by 1961 had begun to record again. After Wade's retirement in 1973, he and Julia began to perform at bluegrass festivals, concentrating on mountain gospel music with an occasional old and rare secular piece. They have been together in marriage and music for 63 years. In 1987 Wade was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship for his role in the development of two-finger banjo picking in the style of his native western North Carolina.

Wade Mainer also received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1987.

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