Entertainment, On A High Note

Hall of Fame member and bluegrass pioneer Mac Wiseman dies at 93

Photo by Alan Poizner/CMA

Mac Wiseman, a pioneer in bluegrass music and member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, has died at age 93. Wiseman passed away on February 24th, according to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Country Music Association.

Born May 23rd, 1925, in Crimora, Virginia, Wiseman developed an early interest in music, most notably from his mother. He did not quite envision the life of an entertainer, as he recalled to Country Weekly in 2014. “When I was in high school, singing country music was not the most reputable thing you could do,” he said in his easygoing manner. “Entertainers were mostly drifters. They would build up a following to where they could draw a crowd and make a living.”

He learned to play guitar and became a sideman for Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs as well as Bill Monroe, two seminal acts that helped build the foundation of bluegrass music. Wiseman was also a member of Molly O’Day’s band before going out on his own as a solo act. His first single, “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” hit No. 10 in 1955, and followed that with his only Top 5 song, “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.” His touching interpretations of songs earned him the nickname, “The voice with a heart.”

During the 1960s, Wiseman found a new audience with the era’s folk music revival. Ultimately, Wiseman enjoyed a musical career that spanned more than 60 years, and he recorded more than 65 albums. Such artists as Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard and Vince Gill considered him a strong influence. Wiseman also served the music community behind the scenes as one of the founding members of the Country Music Association. In 1986, Wiseman co-founded the International Bluegrass Music Association, which aimed to increase support and awareness of the bluegrass genre.

Bluegrass icon Mac Wiseman had two hit singles with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy.” Photo courtesy of Mac Wiseman

In 2014, Wiseman recorded the masterful album “Songs From My Mother’s Hand,” inspired by his mother’s handwritten notebooks of popular songs. He spoke about his mother’s influence with Country Weekly in a 2014 interview. “She was very interested in music,” Wiseman said warmly. “She could read shape notes. There was a church we attended and we sang in church. These very songs [on this album], I remember sitting around the table and singing them. She’d be washing dishes and I would sing every one I knew. Those are some of my most vivid and blessed memories.” His mother wrote down music and lyrics from popular songs in her notebooks, which were amazingly preserved.

“She kept these books on top of this old radio,” Wiseman remembered with special fondness. “These people would come on and sing and she would write down a verse and a chorus, whatever she could. A few days later, they’d sing it again and that’s when she would finish. That was pretty amazing. While she didn’t sing at all, she was very supportive of my interest in music. I had polio as a child, so she told me to keep up with my music so I wouldn’t have to plow those old fields.” Wiseman made his final album in 2017, titled “I Sang the Song,” featuring guest appearances by John Prine, Alison Krauss and others.

In 2014, Wiseman was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Upon his passing, Charlie Daniels noted on Twitter, “He had a one in a million voice and left us a legacy of unique music that stretched across seven decades.”