About Stephen Wade
Stephen Wade was born in 1953 in Chicago where, growing up, he listened to some of the wonderful traditional musicians who had migrated north to the city from both Mississippi Delta and the Southern Appalachians. He began playing the guitar at age eleven, a student of urban, downhome blues. In his late teens he acquired his first banjo and encountered in Chicago, a continuing legacy of players. In 1971, he met Fleming Brown, a teacher at the Old Town School of Folk Music, and an early urban-bred interpreter of Southern Appalachian music. Stephen began an apprenticeship with this masterful player and singer, and within a few years, inherited his teacher’s class at the School. During this period, Stephen also began working as accompanist to Mr. Brown’s teacher, Doc Hopkins (the great old-time radio singer from Harlan, Kentucky who came to Chicago in 1930 to perform on the WLS National Barn Dance, an occupation which lasted 22 years). Under the loving and watchful care of these two musicians, Stephen Wade studied the five-string banjo. Stephen has also benefited from the recordings made by the Folk Archive of the Library of Congress, early commercial discs of traditional music, homemade air checks of live radio broadcasts, and the learned studies of American cultural historians, folklorists, and musicologists. He has traveled throughout the United States to record in the field a number of gifted musicians committed to regional music forms. Similarly, Stephen’s research of American humor, folk narrative, and tall tales have demanded both formal inquiry and informal absorption. As such, he has worked with both scholars and artists, particularly in relation to the Federal Writers’ Project. In 1994, The Newberry Library recognized his research, making Stephen Wade their second Arthur Weinberg Fellow. That portion of his research which becomes performance, when combined with music and dance steps, make up the theatre shows “Banjo Dancing” and “On the Way Home.” “Banjo Dancing” opened in Chicago in 1979, and on Labor Day of that year, Stephen performed at the White House. Following its thirteen month run, the show went on tour, eventually coming to Washington, DC, in January 1981. Scheduled for a three week engagement, the show ran more than eight years at the Arena Stage, and became one of the five longest-running shows in the United States. In 1989 he opened his second show, “On the Way Home.” That season the show earned two Helen Hayes Award nominations (Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Musical). In 1991, after a decade in Washington, Stephen Wade began a national tour of both shows, stopping in such cities as Dallas, Detroit, Fort Worth, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis. In 1993, after a six month run of “On the Way Home,” he became the recipient of Chicago’s Joseph Jefferson Award (Best Actor, revue). He has been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition”, and profiled on such television shows as “The Today Show” and the “CBC Evening News”. In 1985, he appeared in the PBS broadcast, “The Unquiet Library”, a documentary about the Library of Congress Music Division. In 1987, he wrote and starred in the hour-long, Emmy-nominated public television documentary, “Catching the Music”. He composed and compiled the score for the 1989 Arena Stage production of Sam Shepard’s “A Lie of the Mind”. He also produced three critically-praised albums of traditional musicians Tony Ellis and Fleming Brown, and produced an extensive two-CD anthology of traditional music of the United States for an international sound recording library. His own album of music, “Dancing Home”, went into national release in 1991. Stephen Wade is the writer and editor of the forthcoming book and compact disc The Art of American Folk Music, Encounters With The Legendary Library of Congress Field Recordings, produced in cooperation with the American Folklike Center, Library of Congress and Flying Fish records.
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