McLain Family Band

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For many decades, this US band was a noted purveyor of traditional bluegrass music. The founder was Raymond Kane McLain (b. 18 April 1928, Alliance, Ohio, USA, d. 14 February 2003, Lexington, Kentucky,…
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For many decades, this US band was a noted purveyor of traditional bluegrass music. The founder was Raymond Kane McLain (b. 18 April 1928, Alliance, Ohio, USA, d. 14 February 2003, Lexington, Kentucky, USA). From 1954, McLain was director of Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky. His mother, Beatrice Kane McLain (b. 1906, d. 3 April 2004, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA), was also a significant figure in American folk music, having been director of Southern Folk Life Studies at the University of Alabama. A trained musician, Raymond had previously studied folk music at Harvard and the University of North Carolina.

At Hindman, encouraged by his wife, Betty, he formed a band with his son, Raymond W., and his daughters, Alice, and Ruth. Over the years, other band members included two younger children, Nancy Ann and Michael. Also brought into the band were some of his children’s spouses, Beverly Buchanan, Michael Riopel and Al White, while his wife acted as manager. The band’s instrumentation included guitar, banjo, mandolin, bass, fiddle and accordion. In 1970, McLain and his family moved to Berea, Kentucky, where he taught at the local college’s music department. From 1972, the band made some 14 international tours under the sponsorship of the US State Department. In addition to concerts at the Grand Ole Opry, the band also had dates with symphony orchestras at which they performed works such as Phillip Rhodes’ ‘Concerto For Bluegrass And Orchestra’, which was based upon original McLain themes. The band also appeared at Carnegie Hall and at the Lincoln Center. In 1978, the family started a bluegrass festival in Berea that attracted large audiences and a wide range of acts. The family band folded in 1989 but re-formed in 1994, 2000 and 2006 for occasional concerts.

Raymond W. McLain, fiddle and banjo, is the best known outside the family band. He has built a long career that includes spells with Jim And Jesse’s Virginia Boys and in duo with Canadian harmonica player, Mike Stevens. He also appeared in a band named the McLain with his brother, Michael, and sister-in-law Jennifer McLain, recording the 2005 album More Fun Than We Ought To Have. In addition to performing, Raymond W. is Director of the Bluegrass and Country Music Program at East Tennessee State University. In 2006, he fronted a McClain Family Band Reunion Concert in Hiltons, Virginia.