Folklorist Patrick Ward Gainer (August 25, 1903-February 22, 1981) was a musician, educator, major collector of West Virginia folklore, long-time president of the West Virginia Folklore Society, and founder of the West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glenville.
Starting in 1924, Gainer searched the hills and hollows of West Virginia, recording the folk songs and lore of the state’s people. His research uncovered convincing evidence that many musical traditions of the mountain settlers derived from their British Isle forebears. Of the 299 ballads recorded by Francis Child in the British Isles during the latter years of the 19th century, Gainer discovered that 55 were also played and passed on by Mountain State musicians.
Gainer was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and was raised in the village of Tanner, near Glenville, Gilmer County. Born during a time when communities still gathered for music schools and ‘‘literaries,’’ Gainer was able to reach back to an earlier time when superstitions, shape-note singing, and working ‘‘bees’’ were commonplace. His cultural grounding gave him the opportunity and desire to spend his career collecting and preserving the country life of the West Virginia mountains. Armed with his dulcimer and a clear tenor voice, usually singing without accompaniment, Gainer held class all over the state to spellbound students who heard him perform the ancient ballads and stories.
Gainer was a professor of English at West Virginia University from 1946 to 1972. His WVU courses were among the most popular offered at the institution.
Known nationwide as a folklife authority, Gainer remains a respected memory in the minds of his many students. His works include the books West Virginia Centennial Book of 100 Songs, 1863–1963 (1963), Witches, Ghosts and Signs (1975), Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills (1975), the ‘‘Music’’ chapter in B. B. Maurer’s Mountain Heritage (1974), and a 1963 recording for Folk Heritage Recordings, Folk Songs of the Allegheny Mountains.
This Article was written by John H. Randolph
Last Revised on October 23, 2012
Gainer, Patrick W. Folk Songs from the West Virginia Hills. Grantsville: Seneca Books, 1975.
Gainer, Patrick W. Witches, Ghosts and Signs. Morgantown: Seneca Books, 1975.
West Virginia Centennial Book of 100 Songs, 1863-1963. Morgantown: 1963.