Banjoist paved the way for bluegrass era

Wade Mainer, a country music pioneer 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.

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.

“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 told AP.

Born near Asheville, N.C., Mainer got his musical start in North Carolina’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, Mich., 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, getting back on the circuit in the 1970s.

Mainer said at the time that 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.

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