Growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s, he was exposed to folk musicians who had moved north from the Mississippi Delta and the Southern Appalachians.
He began playing blues guitar at age 10. Eventually he switched to the banjo. In 1971, began studying with Fleming Brown at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. By 1974, Wade had taken over Brown’s class at the school. He also began an association with old-time radio singer Doc Hopkins. Under the tutelage of his two mentors, the young Wade immersed himself in studying the banjo, folk and traditional music, and American folklore. Later, he traveled to across the U.S. to research American humour and folk tales, and meet with folk musicians in the field.
In the late 1970s, he developed a theatrical performance combining storytelling, traditional American music and skillful dance entitled "Banjo Dancing". The show opened in Chicago in 1979 and ran for thirteen months, at which time Wade took his show on the road. The show ended up at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C. and ran for ten years.
In the mid-1980s, Wade was featured in the television documentary, The Unquiet Library, wrote and appeared in the documentary, Catching the Music and composed the score for the Sam Shepard play, A Lie of the Mind.
On the Way Home, his second critically-acclaimed theatre show opened in 1989 in Washington. In the early 1990s, he took both of his shows on a national tour. This tour was recognised in the U.S. national media and he appeared on The Today Show and the CBS Evening News.
Wade has written a book and produced a companion CD, “The Art of American Folk Music, Encounters with The Legendary Library of Congress Field Recordings.” In addition, he has appeared regularly on the National Public Radio programmes "All Things Considered" and "Morning Edition."