During this conversation and performance with Mac Wiseman—recorded when Wiseman was ninety, three years and five months prior to his 2019 death—the Country Music Hall of Fame and Bluegrass Hall of Fame member talks with the Museum’s Peter Cooper about a remarkable life in music.
Raised in poverty on a farm in Crimora, Virginia, Wiseman was stricken with polio as a boy. He recovered, but the disease left him with a limp that made work hard to find. Dismissed by a potential employer, he said he was so low he “could’ve walked under a snake with a top hat on,” but the polio turned out to be—in his view—a blessing, because it allowed him a college scholarship.
At the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, Mac Wiseman studied speech and radio, and emerged with skills that led to his ascent as a musician, a broadcaster, and on-air personality. He made his studio debut as a bass player in 1946, on records that the famed Art Satherley produced for Mollie O’Day. Soon, Wiseman was performing with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, before working as Bill Monroe’s lead singer in the Blue Grass Boys.
In 1951, he recorded “’Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” for Dot Records, launching a solo career that took him across the world. He also helped found the Country Music Association, served as a record label chief, and recorded with a cross-genre array of artists including songwriting heroes Merle Haggard and John Prine, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Duane Eddy, and big band leader Woody Herman. In a conversation, peppered with audio and video clips and Wiseman’s shining humor, he details his experiences.
The program concludes with Grammy-nominated songwriter and guitarist Thomm Jutz joining Wiseman for renditions of “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues,” “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer” (these first two songs from Wiseman’s “Songs From My Mother’s Hand” album) and classics “Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy” and “’Tis Sweet to Be Remembered.”
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