40 years of Stained Glass Bluegrass 

Stained Glass BluegrassWAMU’s Bluegrass Country is celebrating 40 years of Stained Glass Bluegrass with a concert on Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the WAMU Media Center in north-west Washington, D.C..

WAMU 88.5 American University Radio has presented Stained Glass Bluegrass, their Sunday morning Gospel music show, for a little over 40 years, with the current presenter, Gary Henderson, being the person behind the mic for that first show, broadcast in June 1974. The program is the second oldest, continually, running show on WAMU-FM.

Gary Henderson remembers when the topic was first mentioned…….

“The idea first surfaced last year around June, the time of the actual 40th, but with IBMA. and other radio station commitments we had to move it to June of this year. About a year late.”

Henderson adds some interesting historical information …..

Gary Henderson at the board at WAMU's Bluegrass Country“Our initial bluegrass offering, Bluegrass Unlimited a thirty minute bluegrass show expanded to three hours, then four, on Saturday morning. I think the management named it, Saturday Morning Bluegrass. Toward the end of Bluegrass Unlimited, Dick Spottswood stepped down as host, and I took over.

After the Saturday program had been on the air, maybe five or six months, I was approached by Dru Campbell, who was the WAMU-FM business secretary, and was one of the very few staff members who enjoyed bluegrass music. She asked me what I thought about a bluegrass gospel program on Sunday morning?  My response was favorable, then you guessed the next comment, “would you be interested in hosting?”

Gosh, I was already full-time as a broadcast technician at National Public Radio, a four hour bluegrass show on Saturday, now they wanted me to work seven days a week. Well, I said I would think about it.

I thought– when would bluegrass have another golden opportunity to expand to more hours on WAMU-FM?  Not likely, so I caved. “Stained Glass Bluegrass”, a great name suggested by our News Director, Craig Oliver, began in June, 1974, nine months after the Saturday show.

My memory will not offer any kind of playlist, but whatever current bluegrass albums that I had in my collection was the source material. The station had no bluegrass music in its library. I had to scramble to fill three, then four hours of bluegrass gospel. So I augmented with some traditional country gospel, along with the Masters Family, The Bailes Brothers, Johnnie and Jack, and The Chuck Wagon Gang. Today, we are spoiled with a wide selection of bluegrass gospel to choose from.”

Henderson continued to present the show until late summer 1982 when the late Red Shipley took over. Shipley increased the number of listeners and the figures were boosted further by the launching of Bluegrass Country in 1982.

Internet transmissions meant that Stained Glass Bluegrass (and all the station’s other bluegrass shows) could be heard world-wide.

In 2002 Bob Webster started helping Shipley with the producing of Stained Glass Bluegrass and in September 2007 Webster became the sole host of the programme (Shipley passed away in October 2007). Webster’s tenure ended in December 2012 when he moved to North Carolina. Henderson returned to man the desk.

The intimate fund-raising concert, hosted by Gary Henderson and featuring a performance by The Larry Stephenson Band, has limited seating – just 60 tickets in all – and will begin at 1:00 p.m. It will be preceded by a reception at 11:30 a.m., a meet-and-greet with the Larry Stephenson Band members and WAMU Bluegrass Country hosts, and tours of the WAMU studios.

The award-winning Larry Stephenson Band has been entertaining audiences for over 25 years.

Stephenson has released five Gospel albums during that time, beginning with Close My Eyes to Heaven in 1991.

His latest album, Pull Your Savior In, is also an all-Gospel project and winner of the 2015 SPBGMA Album of the Year Award.

Stephenson remembers how WAMU and Stained Glass Bluegrass was part of his upbringing …….

Larry Stephenson“In the early to mid-1970s while I was in high school in King George, Virginia, I discovered WAMU. Gary Henderson was on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I had a band with my Dad and we had put out a record so we made a trip to the station and little did I know that would be the start of a wonderful relationship with one of the greatest radio stations ever for bluegrass, bluegrass Gospel and good acoustic music. Stained Glass Bluegrass came alone and Sunday mornings were a listening must!

I don’t know if I can put into words how important WAMU was to the Washington, D.C. area. Not only for the listener but for all the artists in the area who might not have ever been heard if it were not for WAMU. Myself included. Gospel music has been a big part of my band and some of my most popular songs are Gospel and I give credit to Stained Glass Bluegrass for that in the early days of my band.

Congratulations to WAMU and Stained Glass Bluegrass for 40 years. I am honored and humbled to be part of this celebration!”

To purchase tickets, priced $40.00, visit the dedicated web page, where those who cannot attend can make a donation to WAMU’s Bluegrass Country.

The concert will be recorded for later broadcast.

Bluegrass Country is a listener-supported public radio service that can be in the Washington area on 105.5FM, on 93.5FM in Frederick and Hagerstown, Maryland, and around the world at bluegrasscountry.org.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.