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September 06, 1991 - Image 136

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-09-06

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Stephen Wade:
Talmud With Twang


Special to The Jewish News

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e is talmudic with a
twang, a country boy
born with a banjo on
his knee.
"Well, now, I think that's
medically impossible,"
reckons Stephen Wade.
"That would be hard to do,
being born with a banjo on
my knee."
All right, then, Stephen,
how about a banjo born in
your soul? Nobody's going to
argue that —especially after
they've seen Mr. Wade wade
knee-deep into his festive
"Banjo Dancing, or the 48th
Annual Squitters Mountain
Song Dance Folk-lore Con-
vention Banjo Contest .. .
How I Lost," at People's
Light and Theatre Company
in Malvern. Pa.
Sure is a mouthful. But
then Mr. Wade has a lot to
say during a talk one after-
Tag this guy a talker. He's
delightful, spirited and ya
gotta admit, this Chicago-
born country crooner cer-
tainly has pluck. It's not
every music man who can
grab a banjo and strum his
way through an evening of
songs and stuff and get a gig
that runs for 10 years — as
he did during the '80s in
Washington, D.C.
"Yeh," he says, "that was
some surprise."
There's the shaggy dog
story about the mutt who
joined him riding the rails,
running "alongside the train
on three legs, while lifting
the other to put out fires."
Then there's the Yiddishkeit
kibbitzing culled from Leo
Rosten's The Joys of
Yiddish. Not to mention the
clog dancing.
And then there is the banjo
—always the banjo. "I loved
the banjo before I even
learned to play it," says the
38-year-old performer. "It
has so many sounds."
Including those of success.
What Mr. Wade hears these
days, besides the applause
and acclaim, is the echo of
times that once were.
"The material I use is
evergreen," says the enter-
tainer. "Whether it's the
material from Rosten in
`Banjo Dancing' or the slave
narrative in 'On the Way
Home' " —another one-man
show he performs — "there

Michael Elkin is the enter-
tainment editor of the Jewish
Exponent in Philadelphia.

Stephen Wade

is a resonance of the past in
all of them."
There is certainly some-
thing for everyone.
"I went to someone's bat
mitzvah recently, and a
member of the congregation
came up to me about 'Banjo
Dancing' and said it was so
Jewish. Well," he muses,
considering the connection
between wit and wisdom, "I
guess there is a talmudic
sense to it."
Mr. Wade senses that what
makes his entertainment so
successful is a partnership of
the performer and the crowd.
"This is not just a gathering
of ghosts from the past on
stage," says Mr. Wade.
"This all is a collective crea-
tion between me and the au-
And, of course, the banjo,
instrumental in creating a
bond between Mr. Wade and
his widening legion of fans.
"The banjo has many moods,
joyful and mournful," notes
the philosophical performer.
"There is a lot of personal
craftsmanship that goes into
creating one.
"The banjo is a nexus of
personal and industrial, a
delicate balance of invention
and tradition."
Certainly, banjo player is
not a traditional career
choice for a Jewish boy. But
Stephen Wade was a
youngster who encountered
nothing but encouragement
at home.
"They knew that I had to
play," says Mr. Wade of his
folks and the folk tunes he
Mr. Wade would have pur-
sued performing even if his
shows hadn't become such
hits. "I just would have gone
back to England and
Scotland, where I had been
doing so well before, playing
in little pubs," says Mr.
But a life in music has
struck all the right

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