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Jesse McReynolds, Lead Singer in Long-Running Bluegrass Duo, Dies at 93

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Four years later, he and his brother started a banjo-less string band that played country music throughout southwestern Virginia. It was not until 1952, when they began working with the producer Ken Nelson at Capitol Records, that they first described the music they were making as bluegrass.

“We were hesitating over whether we’d even feature the five-string banjo,” Mr. McReynolds said in an interview for the liner notes to “Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys: In the Tradition,” a 1987 album released by Rounder Records. “But it turned out that Ken Nelson was expecting us to record as a bluegrass band, so that’s what we did.”

Mr. Nelson also encouraged the brothers to change the name of their ensemble from the Virginia Trio, under which they made their first recordings in 1951, to Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys. In 1960, after more than a decade of performing on many of the radio barn dances of the era, they began hosting their own syndicated television program, sponsored by the Martha White flour company.

The duo was a popular draw on the early ’60s folk circuit, appearing, among other places, at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. A year later they became members of the cast of the Grand Old Opry, having gained a reputation, like Bill Monroe before them, for attracting elite talent to their band like the fiddle players Tommy Jackson and Vassar Clements.

The ensuing decades found the brothers returning to a more traditional approach to bluegrass while consolidating their reputation as one of the premier ensembles in the history of the idiom. Mr. McReynolds served as the affable frontman of the group, his brother as manager of their business affairs.

In the late ’80s, Mr. McReynolds toured and recorded with the Masters, a bluegrass supergroup that included the fiddler Kenny Baker, the dobroist Josh Graves and the banjo player and guitarist Eddie Adcock.

In 1993, Jim & Jesse were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Hall of Fame. Four years later they received a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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