Mary McClain performing at the 1981 Festival of American Folklife

Date: June 24, 1981

Source: S1576 , T83-114

Type: Sound

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Event Name

Collector or Fieldworker

Tradition Bearer

Genre or Occupation

Title of Work

  • St. Louis Blues
  • Walking Man Blues
  • When the Saints Go arching In
  • This Little Light of Mine
  • Amazing Grace
  • When the Saints Go Marching In

Ethnicity or Nationality

Place Name

Corporate or Conference Name


  • One reel to reel recording. Known as Diamond Teeth Mary for the jewels she placed in her teeth in the 1940s, Mary McClain was born in West Virginia, and always claimed to be the half sister of fellow blues singer Bessie Smith. In 1918, she moved to Florida's Gulf Coast. During her later years, she lived in Bradenton, Florida. Although McClain was a popular performer in the 1920s and 1930s, she stopped performing the blues for many years. She was rediscovered by the Florida Folklife Program in the 1980s. In 1986, she won the Florida Folk Heritage Award. She died on 4 April  2000. Held on the National Mall and sponsored by the Smithsonian Institute, the festival began in 1967. Created by folklorist Ralph Rinzler, the annual festival showcases national folklife, usually focusing on one state each year.

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