born // 1927
lived // laurel county
played // anything with strings
died // 1998
Dora Mae Wagers
Dora Mae was born on July 14th, 1927 in Laurel County, Kentucky, an area now tucked in the Daniel Boone National Forest, just off highway 75 between London and Mt. Vernon. She was raised in a community dubbed Oller’s Branch by some, Hazel Patch by others. But Dora Mae called it Homebrew Hollow, a name suggesting moonshiners in the back woods, just as she and her kin played banjos on the front porches.
Dora Mae became a frequent attendee of bluegrass festivals throughout central Kentucky. “She’d pick all night and day,” Evelyn remembered, sometimes never going to the stage, but playing tunes, instead, outside of her trailer. Ethan said that to him, it seemed that “she liked to perform some, but I think she liked sitting around jamming, better.”
Dora Mae’s playing can be heard on a few recordings made through her career as a performer. She is featured on a Rounder Collection of Kentucky banjo players, playing versions of Wild Bill Jones, and Young Edward. Both were songs she sang, at one point, but later in life her voice dropped dramatically (perhaps, in part, to the cigarettes she smoked), and she didn’t sing as much. “I think that made her self conscious,” said Evelyn.
Dora Mae’s husband, Ford, passed away in 1990. “She never did remarry again,” Evelyn said. But she had a boyfriend, some years later, and told her daughter, “‘Well, why should I marry him, he draws good money, I draw good money, and… I’m too independent.’” Her mother was independent, Evelyn said. “She had to be, though, if you were raised like my mother, where she had been raised by her grandmother. You had to be independent. You had to know what you wanted, and do it. And she loved her music. [She’d say,] ‘I just pick it because I want to pick it hear myself.’ She used to tell us that… ‘I’m gonna play this cause I want to hear it. And that’s the way she was.’ She loved her music.” Music, a piece of her independence.