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Stephen Wade Goes 'Across The Amerikee' With Historical Banjo And Guitar Music

Before the Grand Ole Opry was the longest-running radio broadcast in US history and a country music institution, it was a humble Nashville program called the WSM Barn Dance. Its first ever guest performer, in November 1925, was Uncle Jimmy Thompson, a septuagenarian fiddler from Tennessee who once said he wanted to "throw his music out all over the Amerikee."

That charming phrase was adopted by banjo player, guitarist and historian Stephen Wade for his new record, Across The Amerikee: Showpieces From Coal Camp to Cattle Trail, which was released in June.

Wade first came to the attention of a wide audience in 1979 with his stage show Banjo Dancing, which combined extensive research into traditional American music and culture with his knack for storytelling and musicianship, and which ran for 10 years. More recently, Wade penned The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience, an acclaimed 2012 book on a dozen notable musical field recordings found in the Library of Congress.

Wade's new album focuses on "showpieces": songs or instrumentals that show off what a performer can do, or tunes that particular performers made their own. Hear his conversation with NPR's Robert Siegel — plus a few in-studio mini-performances — at the audio link.

Radio producer Tom Cole and web producer Karen Gwee contributed to this story.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Prior to his retirement, Robert Siegel was the senior host of NPR's award-winning evening newsmagazine All Things Considered. With 40 years of experience working in radio news, Siegel hosted the country's most-listened-to, afternoon-drive-time news radio program and reported on stories and happenings all over the globe, and reported from a variety of locations across Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia. He signed off in his final broadcast of All Things Considered on January 5, 2018.
Melissa Gray is a senior producer for All Things Considered.

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