Musician Raymond McLain, 74, Dies – Bluegrass Legend Was Patriarch Of Family Band

Raymond Kane McLain, a classically trained musician who moved to Eastern Kentucky in the 1950s and formed a bluegrass band with his five children, died of cancer yesterday on February 14th at his home in Lexington, according to a daughter, Ruth McLain Smith. He was 74.

The McLain Family Band performed in all 50 states and 62 foreign countries, primarily between 1969 and 1989. They played at Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and at the Spoleto Festival in Italy. The band initially included Mr. McLain and his three oldest children. His two youngest children and extended family members played with the band later.

''Bluegrass music first and last is fun,'' McLain wrote in 1972 for the program of the Festival of Two Worlds in Italy, where his family band was to be the only bluegrass act. ''As genuine contemporary folklore in the United States, it has inherited the vigor of its varied origins, the sincerity of the Anglo-Saxon ballad, the hoopla of the minstrel show, the sociability of the singing game and the square dance, the loneliness of the cowboy life, the sass of ragtime, the fervor of the camp meeting and the pathos of the blues.''

''I think he was able to deal with people at the folk level, who played the music by ear, and was capable of analyzing it,'' Loyal Jones of Berea said yesterday. Jones founded and directed the Berea College Appalachian Center and worked with McLain for many years.

A native of Alliance, Ohio, McLain grew up in Lexington, where his father, Raymond F. McLain, was president of what was then Transylvania College from 1939 to 1951. His mother, Beatrice Kane McLain, was a folklorist and dance leader.

McLain earned a music degree at Denison University in Granville, Ohio. He did graduate work in music composition at Harvard University and in folk-music studies at the University of North Carolina.

He returned to Kentucky in 1954 with his wife, Mary Elizabeth ''Betty'' Winslow, of Madison, Wis.

He took a job as recreation director at the Hindman Settlement School. Two years later, he became executive director of the school, founded in 1902 as a mountain pioneer educational and cultural center.

McLain began the modernization of the school, including designing several buildings as an amateur architect, Mike Mullins, the current executive director of the school, said.

He also took students to perform at events, including the 1964 World's Fair in New York City.

From Hindman, the family moved in 1970 to Berea, where McLain joined the music faculty at Berea College.

McLain offered the first course in bluegrass music in the United States at Berea College, as well as Appalachian music and dance courses, and directed its Country Dancers.

The McLain Family Band was formed in 1968 when it began performing a weekly show on WKYH-TV in Hazard. McLain played bluegrass with his three oldest children, Alice, Raymond W. and Ruth. The younger children, Nancy Ann and Michael, joined the band later.

By the mid-1970s the family had moved to Big Hill Farm near Berea and were hosts of the annual McLain Family Festival of folk and bluegrass bands. The band stopped touring in 1989.

McLain worked 10 years at the Lexington Public Library before he retired in 1996.

A memorial service was held February 17th at Acton Folk Center in Berea.

Memorial gifts may go to the Carter Music Center Memorial Fund, P.O. Box 111, Hiltons, Va. 24258.

Related Post