Stephen Wade concludes MTSU visit with stories, songs

Stephen Wade speaking in the Business and Aerospace Building Thursday night. Photo by Dylan Skye Aycock.

Renowned folk scholar Stephen Wade concluded his two-day campus visit with a 90-minute lecture and concert in the Business and Aerospace Building on Thursday evening.

Wade’s presentation, “A Concert and Conversation with Stephen Wade,” incorporated storytelling, live music and projected visuals to provide an in-depth look into the making of his award-winning book, “The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience.”

The scholar/musician weaved in performances on both the banjo and guitar in between sharing stories of musicians who have influenced him throughout his career. Wade, who began playing blues guitar at age eleven, eventually picked up the banjo prior to studying at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music under the instruction of Fleming Brown, an accomplished banjo player and one of the school’s earliest teachers.

“I must seem like a banjo chauvinist,” Wade said lightheartedly in an interview Thursday morning, “but I’m not really. I love this whole body of music.”

Wade says learning the banjo and compiling research for his book went “hand in hand,” and since his skills and knowledge were cultivated by shadowing older musicians, the scholar says the learning process was “natural” and something he refers to as “grandparent education.” For people wanting to learn the instrument, you can click here for the top banjos for beginners.

Wade’s book, a collection of Depression-era field recordings issued by the Library of Congress, includes stories, music and photographs collected from nearly 200 interviews over 20 years of research, many of which were conducted in the musicians’ homes.

“These are the records I first learned from, so to go back and write [the] book and find these people and learn about it all makes sense that way,” he said of the making of the publication. “It all converges.”

Since The Beautiful Music All Around Us has been published, Wade says he’s traveled back to almost all of the communities where he did his research.

“It continues to be a nourishing experience,” he said. “Certainly for me and I hope for others.”

Other aspects of Wade’s MTSU visit included a mini-concert in James E. Walker Library and an appearance on 88.3 WMTS’s “The Justin Reed Show.”


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To contact Lifestyles editor John Connor Coulston, email

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