Wade Mainer, a country music pioneer who is credited with inventing the two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the Bluegrass era, has died. He was 104.
Mainer died at his home in Flint Township, about 60 miles northwest of Detroit, according to the funeral home where his service was to be held.
He was a member of late brother J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers, one of the most popular sibling duos of the 1930s. He made recordings for all the major labels of the day, including RCA in 1935, and invented a two-finger banjo picking style that paved the way for the bluegrass era.
“Wade Mainer is the last of the old guard from the ’20s and ’30s to pass on. Mainer’s Mountaineers was a huge group during that time. They influenced the Monroe Brothers, The Delmore Brothers, The Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Reno and Smiley and countless other music groups from the South,” country and bluegrass artist Ricky Skaggs said in an email Wednesday to The Associated Press. “My dad loved them as well so I heard lots of Mainers Mountaineers in my house, too.”
Born near Asheville, North Carolina, Mainer got his musical start in that state’s mountains and later rediscovered it in an industrial Michigan city. Concerned that country music was dying, he left the stage and the South in the early 1950s and moved to Flint, Michigan, to work for General Motors. He played only in church but eventually stopped altogether, putting the banjo under his bed for four years.
Mainer returned to music after another musician convinced the born-again Christian he could use his talents to honor God. He told The Associated Press in 1991 that he got back on the circuit in 1970s after country-western star Tex Ritter bumped into one of Mainer’s sons.
“Ritter said, ‘He’s been dead for 15 years, ain’t he?” Mainer said. “A lot of people thought I was dead.”
Mainer said at the time many of his friends gave up the traditional mountain music for the faster-paced, more profitable bluegrass style.
“This is the only kind of music there is that’s good listening and tells a story,” he said.
He is survived by his wife, Julia, whom he married in 1937 and often performed with him. They had four sons and one daughter as well as two grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. One son died in 1985.
A funeral service is set for Friday at Swartz Funeral Home in Mundy Township near Flint.
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