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One of the chief innovators on the mandolin, Frank Wakefield played straight bluegrass with a number of well-known bands, including Red Allen and the Greenbriar Boys. Born into a musical family in Emory Gap, Tennessee, by age eight he already knew how to play harmonica, guitar, and bass. In 1950, his family moved to Dayton, Ohio, and soon afterward he took up the mandolin and formed the gospel-oriented Wakefield Brothers with sibling Ralph, who played guitar. In 1951, the brothers made their first radio appearance in Dayton. After the duo split up, Frank teamed with Red Allen in 1952 to form Red Allen & Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians. They remained partners through 1972, occasionally pursuing side projects as well. It was with Allen that Wakefield mastered the banjo and Dobro, and when he moved with Allen to Washington, D.C. in 1960, he began offering private mandolin lessons; his star pupil was a young David Grisman. Wakefield joined the Greenbriar Boys in 1965 and remained with them through 1970. He also recorded The Frank Wakefield Band in 1971, and cut Pistol Packin' Mama in 1974 with his group the Good Old Boys, featuring appearances by Don Reno, Dave Nelson, and Chubby Wise, with Jerry Garcia in the producer's chair. Wakefield has also continued to teach (and released an instructional video) and has recorded into the 21st century, releasing Midnight on the Mandolin (2000), Don't Lie to Me (2003), and Ownself Blues (2009), all on the Patuxent label.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Wakefield (born June 26, 1934) is an innovative American mandolin player in the bluegrass music style. Wakefield is known for his collaborations with a number of important and well-known bands, including Red Allen, Don Reno, Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and the Greenbriar Boys.
Born into a musical family in Emory Gap, Tennessee, Wakefield by age eight already knew how to play harmonica, guitar and bass. In 1950, his family moved to Dayton, Ohio. At the age of 16 he had switched to the mandolin and began playing music with his brother Ralph on guitar. The duo called themselves The Wakefield Brothers and in 1951, made their first radio appearance playing gospel and old-time music on WHIO in Dayton.
In 1952 Wakefield began a long and to productive collaboration with the bluegrass singer and guitar player, Red Allen. For the next 3 years Wakefield toured with Red Allen and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys. Through the rest of the decade Wakefield also toured with Jimmy Martin and the Sunny Mountain Boys as well as the Chain Mountain Boys, with whom he recorded his first 45 RPM—which included his now most famous bluegrass composition, "New Camptown Races". In 1958 Wakefield reunited with Red Allen and his band the Kentuckians. The popular Kentuckians cut many 45s in following years, had a weekly radio show, and even played at Carnegie Hall in 1963. Important CD recordings surviving from this period of Wakefield's career include Red Allen and Frank Wakefield: the Kitchen Tapes and Red Allen: the Folkway Years 1964-1983. In 1960, Wakefield moved to Washington, DC with Red Allen and there began giving private lessons. One of his students at this time was a young David Grisman.
In the mid-1960s Wakefield began playing mandolin with the very popular Greenbriar Boys as well as appearing with Ralph Stanley. Also in this period he began turning to new influences, composing classical mandolin sonatas and arranging classical pieces for traditional blugrass instruments. This innovative style offered him the opportunity to play with the New York Philharmonic, led by Leonard Bernstein in 1967 and an invitation to appear as a guest with the Boston Pops in 1968.
By the 1970s Wakefield launched a solo career. He released his first solo album in 1972 and his second in 1975 backed up by bluegrass heavyweights Don Reno and Chubby Wise. He toured with Jerry Garcia, and New Riders of the Purple Sage and opened for the Grateful Dead. By mid-decade Wakefield began working with his newly formed band, The Good Ol' Boys with whom he would enjoy a productive collaboration until the mid-1980s. Since 1989 he has toured with the Frank Wakefield Band. In 1999 he earned a Grammy Nomination for best bluegrass album of the year for his work on the album Bluegrass Mandolin Extravaganza on which he played with fellow mandolin greats Sam Bush, David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, Jesse McReynolds, Bobby Osborne, Ricky Skaggs and Buck White.
Mandolin player David Grisman said of Wakefield's influence, "He split the bluegrass mandolin atom. Some of us, obviously, will never be the same again." Wakefield continues to record and tour nationally; he remains one of the most colorful, unique and exciting voices in American music.