musical lives, remembered in story & sound
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Dora Mae Wagers

Dora Mae Wagers -- 1. First Sights


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 “Play like you feel. And if you don’t feel it, you shouldn’t be up there in the first place.”
                                                         --Dora Mae Wagers


A scene from a short video clip: Dora Mae Wagers plays the banjo, sitting in a golf cart, an old tune, Pretty Polly. Her left knee nods up and down, forcefully, to the beat; her head, crowned with her big gray hairdo, bobs to the music, playing like she means it. She wears magenta pants, a lavender running jacket; she wears big golden rings on her fingers, big round sunglasses, and, as the video begins, a big smile on her face. There’s a crowd gathered, in the parking lot; older men in ballcaps, a young man playing the bass, a woman in a western shirt, listening. A man sings the words, as she plays.

Dora Mae Wagers -- 2. Home


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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 Wagers -- 3. Onto The Stage


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Dora Mae Wagers -- 4. The Teacher

Dora Mae’s love of music was infectious; she loved to pass the music on to others. In an interview with Susan Eacker, she said; “I’m an old dude. I love to encourage them: the young ones.”
“She enjoyed teaching other people to play the same kind of music she did,” Evelyn said. “My mother loved all music, but she wanted to [teach] the traditional music.”

Dora Mae Wagers -- 5. The Festivals

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 Wagers -- 6. Her Tunes

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 Wagers -- 7. The End


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.