Folklorist Pat Gainer was born in Parkersburg on August 25, 1903. He was raised in the Gilmer County community of Tanner during a time when superstitions, shape-note singing, and working “bees” were commonplace.
When he was only 21, Gainer began traveling the state to record folk songs and tales.
He traced many of the Mountain State’s musical traditions directly to the British Isles, from where the ancestors of many West Virginians originally hailed. Armed with his dulcimer and a clear tenor voice, Gainer regaled listeners with ancient ballads and folk stories.
In addition, Gainer was one of the most popular professors at West Virginia University, where he taught English from 1946 to ’72. He wrote numerous books about the state’s folk music and lore. Along with Walter Barnes and Ruth Ann Musick, he helped revive the West Virginia Folklore Society and served as its longtime president. He also founded the West Virginia State Folk Festival at Glenville in 1950. The folk festival has been held each June ever since.
Pat Gainer died in 1981 at age 77. He is still considered the premier folklorist in West Virginia history.