Born near Weaverville, North Carolina in 1898, Joseph Emmett Mainer learned to play the banjo when he was about nine years old. In 1923 J. E.’s brother Wade joined him in Concord and the two of them began playing around for dances and shows. They went to work for the Crazy Water Crystal Company broadcasting over WBT in Charlotte as J. E. Mainer's Crazy Mountaineers. The group soon played at many other radio stations. RCA Victor decided to record the group in 1935 for their Bluebird label. J. E. got Snuffy Jenkins in 1937 to play banjo for him. Some of the Mainer recordings with Snuffy Jenkins' three-finger picking sound tantalizingly close to what would later be called bluegrass. His recordings in 1946 resulted in several singles and two albums. An enduring original from these sessions was "Run Mountain”. In 1962, Chris Strachwitz of the Arhoolie label visited J. E. in Concord and subsequently cut a new album, “The Legendary Family from the Blue Ridge Mountains”. Beginning in 1967, J. E. cut a series of 20 albums for Uncle Jim O’Neal’s Rural Rhythm label, guested on the WWVA Jamboree and played numerous festivals. Two re-issues on Strachwitz’s Old Timey label of early material, along with J. E.’s album from 1946 and a pair of albums that J. E. put out helped keep his earlier material in print. J. E. Mainer stayed active in music until his death in 1971.
George Shuffler was born April 11, 1925 in Valdese, North Carolina to a large musical family. At age ten his father traded an old broken down car for a Kalamazoo guitar. At the age of 17, he was offered a job playing bass for the Bailey Brothers, and appeared with them on the Grand Ole Opry that same year. On December 28, 1950, Carter Stanley called and asked him to join the Stanley Brothers as bass player. Throughout the 1950s, Shuffler was primarily a bass player, but switched from the bass to guitar, and developed a style that changed the guitar from a side or rhythm instrument into a key component of bluegrass music. Shuffler perfected what would become his signature style of cross-picking. Shuffler worked with Don Reno and Bill Harrell until 1969, recording several albums with them on bass. In the early 1970s, he left the road to begin a new chapter of his musical career. For 22 years, he traveled and recorded with members of his family singing southern gospel music. He enjoyed recording “The Legacy Continues” with his protégé, the late James Alan Shelton, as well as “Mountain Treasures”, with his good friend and occasional musical partner, Asheville-based Laura Boosinger. In 1996 Shuffler was awarded the IBMA’s Distinguished Achievement Award. He was a 2007 recipient of the North Carolina Heritage award, and in 2011 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013.
Hazel Dickens embodied a fearless honesty expressed in her singing, songwriting, and support of coal miners and women. She never lost her West Virginia mountain vocal style despite her success as an artist and feminist icon. Her life began to change when she met Mike Seeger of the New Lost City Ramblers. Seeger introduced Hazel not only to the folk music scene but to Alice Gerrard. The two blended beautifully musically, and they began a then unheard of female bluegrass duo. Beginning in 1965, they recorded two seminal albums for Folkways with two more released by Rounder during the early 1970s. A fifth album, compiled from practice tapes, appeared in 2018. They also recorded with the mixed gender group, the Strange Creek Singers. During this time, Hazel’s songwriting began to develop alongside her sense of social justice. Gaining courage to sing her new material in jam sessions, her first expression of concern for women’s issues came with “Don’t Put Her Down, You Put Her There.” She was the subject of Mimi Pickering’s Appalshop film “It’s Hard to Tell the Singer from the Song”. The University of Illinois press in 2008 published “Working Girl Blues: The Life and Music of Hazel Dickens”, co-written by Hazel and historian Bill Malone. In 2001, she received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2017 Hazel and Alice were inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, fifteen years after they received the Folk Alliance Lifetime Achievement Award.
The Old Fiddler’s Convention was originated in the spring of 1935 when a few members of the then New Moose Lodge #733 needed something to raise funds and promote publicity. In a newspaper item at the time it was stated that the Convention was dedicated to “Keeping alive the memories and sentiments of days gone by and make it possible for people of today to hear and enjoy the tunes of yesterday.” The original purpose is held in the same regard today. The Old Fiddler’s Convention has grown steadily. In 1965 a Saturday afternoon program was started to relieve the pressure on Saturday night. In 1967 NBC-TV covered the entire three nights and Saturday afternoon. Today, the Convention begins Monday night with Youth Competition and continues each night through Saturday, with an afternoon performance on Saturday. Contestants come from distant states and foreign countries, but when they play, the tunes are the same that have been heard at the convention down through the years. The promoters feel that the Annual Old Fiddlers’ Convention is a tradition in country and mountain musical circles and they do their best to continue bringing the tunes which have been handed down from generation to generation in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The fact that many of the contestants are youngsters is encouraging and the promoters feel that the future of Old Time and Country Music is secure.
The reputation of the Easter Brothers as inspired songwriters of gifted material has grown daily, and they have become known as some of the most prolific tunesmith’s in the gospel music profession. Many of their songs were recorded by other groups and have become standards. Among them are “Thank You Lord For Your Blessings On Me,” and “The Darkest Hour,” just a few of the hundreds of songs penned by the three brothers. They have recorded throughout the years for various major record labels, beginning with King Records, a major country label during the 60s, and later progressing to QCA and their own Commandment label. While the bluegrass gospel sound has carried the Easter Brothers throughout the span of their career, they have never confined themselves to just one style of gospel music. Without losing the identity and integrity of their music, the Easter Brothers have broadened their sound to include southern and country gospel. All throughout their career, they have appeared on a variety of different broadcast television events. The PTL Club, Huff Cook, Leonard Repass, Camp Meetin’ USA, Sing Out America, Great American Gospel, Bluegrass Road, and Top of the Morning are just a few national and international television shows the Easter Brothers have been a part of.