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McLain Family Band Records

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: BCA 0086 SAA 086

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of correspondence, business records, concert programs, photographs, and sound and video recordings documenting the McLain Family Band’s extensive local, national and international performing career during the years 1968-1988.


  • created: 1968-1989
  • Other: Date acquired: 12/14/2001


Conditions Governing Access

Unless otherwise noted, there are no restrictions other than federal copyright regulations.  Please cite collection. Records can be accessed through the Reading Room, Berea College Special Collections and Archives, Hutchins Library, Berea College.


26.20 Linear Feet

55 boxes other_unmapped

Language of Materials



The McLain Family Band came to be as the result of an interest in Bluegrass music developed by Raymond K. McLain (1928-2003) while Director of Hindman Settlement School in Knott County, Kentucky where he had moved in 1954 with his wife, Betty.  This interest owed much to both family influence and formal academic training.  McLain’s mother had been director of Southern Folk Life Studies at the University of Alabama. He had majored in music theory at Denison University and done graduate work in folk music studies at Harvard and the University of North Carolina. Family musical activity that included McLain’s three oldest children, Raymond W., Alice, and Ruth soon led to public performances.  Initially calling themselves the “Bluegrass State,” they found ready acceptance at various nearby venues including Lees College in Jackson, the Pikeville Jamboree, and WKYH-TV in Hazard.  In varying combinations over the years, the band also included the younger McLain children, Nancy Ann and Michael; spouses, Al White, Beverly Buchanan, Michael Riopel; and non-relative, Tom Owen.  Betty McLain served as the band’s business manager. Instrumentally, the band was strictly acoustic with guitar, banjo, mandolin, and upright bass predominating.  Fiddle was used often and accordion occasionally.  Besides vocal and instrumental compositions of their own, the band’s repertoire drew upon bluegrass and country standards, novelty songs, and eastern Kentucky traditional music. In 1970, the family moved to Berea where Raymond W. and Alice entered Berea College and Raymond K. taught Bluegrass Music courses that the College Music Department listed as “The History of Popular Music” and “Musical Expression in the Traditional Idiom.” The Band’s first of 14 overseas tours under the auspices of the U.S. State Department, occurred in July of 1972 with performances in Italy, Germany, and Belgium.  Such travels would eventually take them to a total of sixty-two countries. Extensive touring within the United States would take them to all 50 states.  They performed at numerous community arts events, schools and bluegrass festivals and appeared on Bluegrass / Country Music TV and radio programs such as the Grand Ole Opry, Fire on the Mountain, and Nashville Now. During the early 1980s they had a weekly show of their own on Lexington’s WKYT-TV. They also produced fourteen LP disc recordings marketed on their own Country Life label. More unusual venues included the Kennedy Center, Louisville’s J.B. Speed Art Museum, Carnegie Hall, NBC’s Today Show, the PBS production, “Pearl and Friends at Center Stage,” and the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Most unusually for a bluegrass band, they made numerous appearances with symphony orchestras including those in Cleveland, Atlanta, Louisville, Cincinnati, Phoenix, and Calgary. Their symphonic repertoire included Phillip Rhodes' arrangements of McLain originals, his Concerto for Bluegrass and Orchestra, Peter Schlickle's Far Away From Here, and Raymond W's Troublesome Creek Suite, orchestrated by Newton Wayland. In 1978, they started their own bluegrass festival.  It was held that year at Renfro Valley in Rockcastle County, and for the remaining years, on their farm located in the Big Hill community near Berea.  Annual attendance was in the range of six to seven thousand.  Major Bluegrass acts and talented up-and-comers were featured along with bands from other countries and traditional dance groups such as the Green Grass Cloggers and Berea College Country Dancers.  A special effort was made to include other family bands such as the Whites, the Osborne Brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, and the Lewis Family.  At various times, festival performances were carried on NPR’s Folk Festival U.S.A. and in a series distributed to PBS stations by Kentucky Educational Television. Maintaining a heavy performance schedule became increasingly difficult as the band members began establishing families of their own and pursuing other business, educational, and musical interests.  They formally disbanded in 1989, but reunited briefly in 1994 for a concert at the Festival of the Bluegrass held at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington.

Arrangement Note

By Series and subseries as follows: 1. McLain Family Band: Sub-Series—Biographical, U.S. Performances, International Performances, General Correspondence, Subject Files, Financial Records, Photographs, Miscellany, Sound and Video Recordings. 2. McLain Family Bluegrass Festival: Sub-Series—Correspondence, Clippings, Financial Records, Subject Files, and Photographs.

Method of Acquisition

The material was placed in Hutchins Library’s Southern Appalachian Archives on December 14, 2000 by Betty Tallmadge and were opened for research in August of 2001.

Other Descriptive Information

BCA 0086 SAA 086


Archon Finding Aid Title
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Berea College Special Collections and Archives Repository

Hutchins Library
100 Campus Drive
Berea Kentucky 40404 US