Story credit to Tim Clodfelter/Winston-Salem Journal
Bluegrass performer Julia Mainer, who performed on WSJS radio in the 1930s, has died at age 95.
Mainer died Wednesday after sustaining injuries in a fall a few days earlier, according to published reports.
“She was a magnificent singer and guitarist popularly known at the time as Hillbilly Lilly,” according to a report at Bluegrass Today. “Julia Mainer is considered to be a pioneering female musical artist.”
Born Julia Mae Brown in North Carolina in 1919, she performed on WSJS radio from 1935 to 1937, when she married pioneering bluegrass musician Wade Mainer.
“Wade and Julia were dear friends of mine, and Julia was an indispensible part of the Wade Mainer legacy, really,” music historian David Holt said. “She accompanied him in the music, she kind of kept the business going, and she was a performer in her own right.”
During the time she was appearing on WSJS, it was common for musicians to have 15-minute slots to perform. It was “pretty unusual” for a woman to perform on radio as a solo performer in the mid-1930s, Holt said.
Wade Mainer was known for his singing and precise two-finger banjo style, and according to a profile by UNC-TV, he “created a distinct sound that bridged the gap between old-time mountain music and bluegrass.” He traveled with his brother J.E. and their group, Mainer’s Mountaineers, which he left in 1941 to form a new band called The Sons of the Mountaineers.
Holt recalled the story of how Wade and Julia Mainer met in 1937.
“I remember Wade telling me his band was playing for her father’s birthday,” he said. “The band pulled up to her house, and he saw her, and he just turned to the rest of the other guys in the band and said, ‘She’s mine, I’m going to marry her.’”
In addition to her solo work, Julia Mainer served as Wade Mainer’s guitarist in performances on the road and on albums, and she sang harmony with him, according to Bluegrass Today.
During the 1950s, they moved to Flint, Mich. They largely gave up musical entertainment, singing only in religious services, while Wade began working in the automobile industry.
They began performing and recording again in 1961, according to MLive.com, a website devoted to news in Michigan. After Wade Mainer retired in 1972, they continued to perform at bluegrass festivals throughout Michigan.
About five years ago, Holt said, they came to Weaverville for a Mainer family reunion, Julia driving the entire way from Flint.
“She was a great lady, that’s for sure,” Holt said.
Wade Mainer died in 2011 at age 104. They had five children.