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Bluegrass Mandolin Virtuoso Frank Wakefield Dies Aged 89



Frank Wakefield

Frank Wakefield, a legendary bluegrass mandolin player, has reportedly died at the age of 89. With his brother Ralph, Frank was a member of the Wakefield Brothers in his teens.

His official cause of death is being reported as complications due to COPD.

Born in Tennessee, Wakefield would eventually relocate to Dayton, Ohio. He got his start in bluegrass by collaborating with the legendary singer Red Allen. Allen was popular in the 1950s.

In 1953, Wakefield recorded the hit “New Camptown Races,” his first hit. Throuhgout his career he performed with the Greenbrier Boys, toured alongside Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, and performed at Carnegie Hall with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic. reports on his accomplished career,

A hallmark of Wakefield’s career was his innovation on the mandolin. He played his instrument in surprising ways, imagining new tunings and chord changes. He played bluegrass in surprising ways, too, blending it with classical music as he composed sonatas for mandolin and played existing classical works in a bluegrass style. Wakefield was also known for his colorful speech, which he called “balking tackwards.” He would deliberately twist sentences around, greeting people with “Goodbye” and saying “Nice to meet me” or, at a show, “Don’t you give us an encore, now” as the band launched into an encore. 

Wakefield’s influence was assuredly unlimited by the genre of bluegrass. His contributions to music stretch across all genres, however, always stemming from his roots in bluegrass.

During an interview Mondozine, Wakefield famously said,

I just get ideas from playing the mandolin all the time. I only play about an hour a day seven days a week, but when I want to write new tunes, I play a couple of hours a day … and when I am playing a lot of notes, then I just start putting pieces together. This is how I come up with a tune that don’t sound like other tunes.

Wakefield to Mondozine

Rest in peace to a true legend!

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