Bluegrass Legend Raymond McLain Performs In Philadelphia

Raymond McLain
Nov. 8 Rajant World Music Concert Benefits UNICEF USA

By Melissa Jacobs

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Combine poetry with a banjo, add a fiddle and gorgeous harmonies, and you might come close to the music Raymond McLain hears in his head. “I hear an idea of a song and think about how to create it,” McLain said, his smooth voice sweetened by the gentle, rolling lilt of the Kentucky mountains where he was born and raised. “My songwriting process is organic. I have to know what I want to say. If I feel something deeply, it’s easier to write about it.”

Raymond McLain
The Kentucky Center for Traditional Music end of semester concert. Photo by John Flavell

Raymond McLain has performed – solo and with his McLain Family Band – in 50 states and 64 countries. On Nov. 8, McLain brings his bluegrass music to the stage at City Winery in Philadelphia for Rajant’s World Music Benefit. The exclusive concert will raise funds for UNICEF USA, the United Nations agency responsible for providing humanitarian and developmental aid to children in more than 190 countries worldwide.

Opera, rock ‘n roll, metal-infused mariachi and bluegrass music will share the stage at Rajant’s World Music Benefit. Rajant CEO and co-founder Robert Schena wants the roster to reflect the global nature of UNICEF. “Children around the world are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and that need has increased with the pandemic and war in Ukraine,” Schena said.

Donn T

McLain is no stranger to the suffering around the world. He and his family toured Southeast Asia in 1976, right after the Vietnam War. The beauty of the scenery combined with the ravages of war, and the melancholy of homesickness inspired McLain to write “Kentucky Wind,” one of his favorite songs. “My father reassured us that the breeze we felt blowing was the same one blowing in Kentucky,” McLain remembered. “It was a poetic thought. My father wrote the words and I wrote the music. For years after that, it was one of our most requested songs.”

Raymond McLain

Another of McLain’s favorites is “Nightbird,” a song about a long love and deep loss. “A young lady from Nova Scotia told me that she was with an elderly friend at the hospital as his wife of 70 years was dying,” McLain said. “He’d never gone to bed without his wife – except for that night, when he’d be alone for the first time in decades. The story touched me deeply, and the melody and the chord structure for the song came to me quickly, at the same time.”

The emotion and musicality of McLain’s songs have won him legions of fans around the world. Over his 54-year career, Raymond appeared with the McLain Family Band everywhere from Carnegie Hall to The Lincoln Center and the Grand Ole Opry, and on the “Today” show, “Good Morning America,” and at the Country Music Awards and the Johnny Cash Christmas Special.

At Rajant’s World Music Benefit, McLain will perform a duet with opera tenor James Valenti. While opera and bluegrass may seem an unlikely pairing, McLain and Valenti have performed duets in the past. At a Rajant event last summer, Valenti sang operatically over McLain’s bluegrass version of “America The Beautiful.” On Nov. 8, Valenti will also sing arias from Werther, Eugene Onegin and Tosca. The globe-trotting opera star will perform in Russian, French, Italian and German at the concert, perfectly mirroring the global reach of UNICEF.

James Valenti

McLain looks forward to performing with Valenti and interacting with all of the musicians at the benefit. “Music is powerful – more powerful than some of the things that divide us,” he said. “We have a common purpose, which is to use music to reach people and, if we can, heal hearts and inspire dreams.”

Donn T

This is Rajant’s third World Music Benefit. The evening, hosted by PBS alum Denise Richardson, a former “Good Morning America” correspondent, includes a cocktail reception, sit-down dinner, and exclusive silent auction in addition to the live, musical performances.

Tickets to Rajant’s World Music Benefit can be found here.

Want more information about Rajant’s World Music Benefit? Read about the many artists who will be performing, including Donn T and Jake Morelli, and Opera Philadelphia.

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