The McLain Family Band

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The McLain Family Band
McLain Family Band at the Carter Family Fold in 2002
Background information
Years active1968–present
LabelsCounty Life Records
Associated actsBanjocats, Southland Drive, Al, Alice, and Ruth, The Price Sisters, The Woodsheep, Jim and Jesse, The Lewis Family
MembersRaymond W. McLain
Alice White
Al White
Ruth McLain Smith
Michael McLain
Jennifer Banks McLain
Nancy Ann Wartman

The McLain Family Band is a bluegrass group that was active in the 1970s and 1980s and still occasionally performs today. Formed in 1968, the band consisted of father Raymond K. McLain (1928-2003) on guitar, son Raymond W. McLain (b.1953) on banjo, fiddle, mandolin, vocals, and guitar, Alice McLain (b.1956) on vocals and mandolin, and Ruth McLain (b. 1958) on bass, vocals, and mandolin.[1] In later years Nancy Ann McLain (b.1965) and Michael McLain (b.1967) joined the group, playing bass and guitar respectively. Alice's husband, Al White (b.1952), joined the band in 1977, and played guitar and mandolin, as well as contributing vocals.[2]

Between 1973 and 1986 the band released fourteen LPs on its own County Life Records label. One of the albums captures the group's 1982 performance at Carnegie Hall where they were introduced by then First Lady of Kentucky Phyllis George.[3] Others feature a bluegrass concerto written for them by North Carolina composer Phillip Rhodes and a performance of Far Away from Here, a piece written by Peter Schickele, also known as P. D. Q. Bach.[4] The group toured 62 countries and all 50 states under the auspices of the State Department and have performed at Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Symphony Center's Orchestra Hall, and the Grand Ole Opry,[5] in addition to appearing on The Today Show, CBS Morning News, Good Morning America, The BBC, and the Johnny Cash Christmas Special.[6] The band also performed for a number of years at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival created by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass.[7] In 1975 the McLains discussed their international travels on All Things Considered in an interview with Noah Adams, specifically addressing their travels to Japan and Czechoslovakia.[8] In 2013 the International Bluegrass Music Association honored the group by recognizing them with its Distinguished Achievement Award.[1][9]

The band's sound was characterized by Raymond W.'s banjo virtuosity,[10] which has been described as "mindboggling,"[11] and by the close harmonies of Alice and Ruth. Many of their most popular songs were written by family members, among them Raymond K.'s sister, Rosemary McLain Ware.[2]

From 1978 until 1988 the McLains hosted a family band festival at their Big Hill Farm near Berea, Kentucky, drawing crowds of more than 6,000 people.[12][13] Participants included The Whites, Jim and Jesse, The Osborne Brothers, The Lewis Family, The Marshall Family, The Sally Mountain Show (which at the time included Rhonda Vincent), and Blue Night Express (featuring two future members of the Dixie Chicks).[14]

After the group disbanded, family members followed in the footsteps of Raymond F. McLain (1905-1981) and entered the world of education. Raymond F. held the position of President at three universities and published several books. Raymond W. helped create the first Bachelor of Arts Degree in Bluegrass, Old Time, and Country Music at East Tennessee State University before becoming the Director of the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University,[15] where Ruth also teaches. Alice is an elementary school teacher in Berea, and Al teaches music at Berea College. Ruth and Nancy Ann work for children’s publisher Usborne Books.[1]


  • The McLain Family Band (1973)
  • Country Ham (1974)
  • Country Life (1975)
  • On the Road (1976)
  • Kentucky Wind (1977)
  • Family Album (1978)
  • 7th Album (1979)
  • Big Hill (1980)
  • Concerto for Bluegrass Band and Orchestra (1981)
  • The McLain Family Band in Concert at Carnegie Hall (1982)
  • All Natural Ingredients (1983)
  • Sunday Singing (1984)
  • Troublesome Creek (1985)
  • McLain Family Band Country Dance Album (1986)
  • Celebrate Life (2017)


International Bluegrass Music Association: Distinguished Achievement Award. 2013.[9]


  1. ^ a b c Jenkins, Paul. "They Sang for You: The McLain Family Band Re-Examined". Bluegrass Unlimited, April 2014. Vol. 48 (10).
  2. ^ a b Ledgin, Stephanie P. "On the Road and Off—Talking with the McLain Family Band." Pickin'. 1977.
  3. ^ Palmer, Robert. "Bluegrass: McLain Family Gives Carnegie Hall Concert." The New York Times. 29 April 1982. Retrieved 12 November 2015
  4. ^ McLellan, Joseph. Bark to Basics with P.D.Q. Bach. Washington Post. 6 January 1985. Retrieved 17 November 2015
  5. ^ "McLain Family Band to Perform at Carleton College." Carleton Retrieved 12 November 2015
  6. ^ "McLain Family Band, XTreme Dance Company at Carter Fold Saturday." Cybergrass. The Bluegrass Music News Network. 29 December 2014. Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  7. ^ Adler, Thomas. Bean Blossom: The Brown County Jamboree and Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Festivals. Champaign, IL. University of Illinois Press, 2011. (p. 129).
  8. ^ Adams, Noah. (17 June 1975). Noah Adams Reminisces for Playback. Retrieved 12 November 2015
  9. ^ a b "IBMA Announces 2013 Distinguished Achievement Award Recipients". International Bluegrass Music Association Retrieved 24 July 2015
  10. ^ Kochman, Marilyn. "The McLain Family Band." Frets. April 1980.
  11. ^ Shrubsall, Wayne. Banjo Newsletter. 3 October 1983
  12. ^ Hillinger, Charles. "Bighill, Ky., Plays Host to 6,000 Music Lovers." 23 August 1987. Retrieved 17 November 2015
  13. ^ "Guide to the McLain Family Band Records." Berea College. Retrieved 12 November 2015
  14. ^ Henry, Murphy Hicks (13 May 2013). Pretty Good for a Girl: Women in Bluegrass. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 978-0252079177.
  15. ^ "Kentucky Center for Traditional Music." Morehead State University. Retrieved 12 November 2015

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