College of Music

University of Colorado Boulder

Stephen Wade, roots music ‘detective,’ to speak at CU-Boulder Feb. 10

January 13, 2014

Stephen Wade to speak at CU-Boulder Feb. 10

Stephen Wade. Photo by Mary E. Yeomans.

2014 Robert R. and Ruth J. Fink lecturer has delved deep into the origins of American folk tunes — and tunesmiths

BOULDER, Colo. – Perhaps we should call Stephen Wade the Sherlock Holmes of American roots music. 

After all, Wade — who will give the 2014 Robert R. and Ruth J. Fink Lecture at CU-Boulder on Feb. 10 — spent some 18 years delving deep into the backstories of widely recognizable American folk tunes and musicians that morphed into music performed by everyone from Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan, and even formed the basis of Aaron Copland’s famous “Rodeo.” 

Starting with 13 performances from Library of Congress field recordings made between 1934 and 1942 in churches, schools, porches and prisons in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta and the Great Plains, Wade was able to track down families and contemporaries of the musicians, and in some cases, the musicians themselves. 

The result of all his sleuthing is “The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience” (University of Illinois Press, 2012), which Library Journal says is “compelling as a good detective story.” 

“What really makes his book a masterpiece is that it explores the stories of the people from whom the songs were collected and their fame and fate,” says Thomas Riis, director of the American Music Research Center at the CU-Boulder College of Music. “The music of Mozart is great even if you don’t know a thing about his life, but it is much more engaging when we get the biography.” 

 “These stories and the recordings — capturing the voices of everyday people, not pop stars — simply crackle,” the Los Angeles Times says about Wade’s work.

Click here for a video about the book and recordings.

Wade is also a virtuoso banjoist, known for his long-running performances, “Banjo Dancing” and “On the Way Home.” His commentaries have been broadcast on National Public Radio. 

 “Stephen Wade is a phenomenal musician and speaker, a delightful and immediately approachable person whose decades of research and ‘detective work’ around American roots music is unparalleled in our day,” Riis says. “His amazing dedication shows what can be accomplished by a single person on a mission.”


The 2014 Robert R. and Ruth J. Fink Lecture

Stephen Wade, author of “The Beautiful Music All Around Us”

Presented by CU-Boulder College of Music American Music Research Center

Where: Chamber Hall (C199), Imig Music Building, University of Colorado Boulder

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 10

Tickets: Free and open to the public

More information: 303-735-3645 or