Wade Echard Mainer (April 21, 1907 – September 12, 2011) was an American country singer and banjoist. With his band, the Sons of the Mountaineers, he is credited with bridging the gap between old-time mountain music and Bluegrass and is sometimes called the “Grandfather of Bluegrass.” In addition, he innovated a two-finger banjo fingerpicking style, which was a precursor to modern three-finger bluegrass styles.
Originally from North Carolina, Mainer’s main influences came from the mountain music of his family. In a career that began in 1934 and spanned almost six decades, Mainer transitioned from being a member of his brother’s band into the founder of his own ensemble, the Sons of the Mountaineers, with whom he performed until 1953, when he became more deeply involved with his Christianity and left the music industry.
After working at a General Motors factory and attending gospel revivals, Mainer was convinced that he should restart his career as a Christian gospel musician and began to tour with his wife in this capacity. He continued to release albums until 1993.
Mainer was born near Weaverville, North Carolina, on a mountain farm in Buncombe County on April 21, 1907. His family was poor during his childhood and they lived in a log cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mainer credited his father who was, in Mainer’s words, “a good singer – real stout voice”, as of one of his influences. During his career as a musical artist, Mainer would perform many of the old songs that he had heard from his father.
Mainer grew up listening to traditional mountain music and was largely influenced by his brother-in-law Roscoe Banks. He first learned to play the banjo at square dances, where he would pick up instruments left by performers and practice on them.
After moving to Concord, North Carolina and working in a series of jobs at cotton mills, he became a part of his brother J.E.’s band, known as J. E. Mainer’s Mountaineers. His entry into the band in 1934 marked the beginning of a nearly six-decade career in music. J.E. played the fiddle while Wade performed on the banjo for the string band, and they played at fiddlers’ conventions and other gatherings.
Mainer married Julia Mae Brown at the end of 1937, shortly after forming his own band. Brown was a singer and guitarist popularly know at the time as Hillbilly Lilly. She had performed from 1935 until 1937 at WSJS Radio in Winston-Salem. Brown is considered to be a pioneering female musical artist and later joined Mainer during his performances.