Born May 27, 1925, in Crimora (near Waynesboro), Virginia. Education: Graduated Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, c. 1945. Addresses: Record Company--CMH Records, P.O. Box 39439, Los Angeles, CA 90039-0439.

Known to fans as the "Voice with a Heart" because of his distinctive, mellow, tenor vocals, singer and guitarist Mac Wiseman is renowned as a bluegrass music artist, although his music also encompasses old-time, modern, and even pop styles. Despite bluegrass's reputation as a "feudin'" music, with stylistic hardliners holding to various opposing camps, Wiseman has graciously moved in and out of both the more rigid, tradition- laced Bill Monroe-inspired school and the more progressive brand of bluegrass, making him one of the few performers of the genre to transcend such time-honored factionalism. Introducing the twin- fiddle sound to the bluegrass mix through his own innovations during the 1950s, Wiseman has otherwise specialized in more traditional, sentimental material, such as the A. P. Carter-penned "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" and the old-time classic "Letter Edged in Black."

Malcolm B. "Mac" Wiseman was born in the town of Crimora, near Waynesboro, Virginia, on May 23, 1925. Performing country and mountain music in the area of the Shenandoah Valley where Wiseman was raised was a common pastime that sometimes even bordered on folk art; young Mac learned a great deal from the talented friends, neighbors, and family members that he watched interpret traditional Appalachian melodies. The Wiseman home was a popular gathering spot for the musically inclined, as Mac's father had one of the only phonograph players in the area, and even owned a battery-powered radio. "I recall that people came from several miles distance on Saturday night to listen to the [Grand Ole] Opry and the WLS Barn Dance, Wiseman recalled in Music City News, "often staying until the wee hours of the morning or sometimes all night, and then having breakfast and going home." Wiseman taught himself to play the guitar when he was twelve years old, and soon built a large repertoire of traditional songs.

During high school, Wiseman grew more and more interested in music, and decided to find a way to make it his livelihood. After high school, he attended Dayton, Virginia's Shenandoah Conservatory of Music. Graduating from their music program in about 1945, Mac went on to join the announcing staff of radio station WSVA in Harrisburg, Virginia, as newscaster and disc jockey. As his on-air schedule permitted, Wiseman made extra money by writing advertising copy for WSVA sponsors. He also indulged in his favorite pastime--music--by performing with local country bands on the weekends. These stints onstage made Wiseman realize how much he enjoyed performing in front of a live audience, and in 1947 he began to orchestrate a shift in his career. While hosting WCYB radio's Farm and Fun Time show in Bristol, Virginia, Wiseman began playing bass guitar with mountain singer Molly O'Day, whom he would later describe to Don Rhodes in Bluegrass Unlimited as, "without a doubt, the female Hank Williams." Already a talented guitarist and in possession of a warm, fluid tenor voice, Wiseman was soon sought out by other bands, including a popular country group called the Blue Grass Boys, led by a fearsome mandolin picker by the name of Bill Monroe. Wiseman liked the group's fast, loud sound, and recorded several sessions with them, singing harmony to Monroe's lead vocals. It would be a few years before their sound, with its high, wailing tenor vocals and intricate acoustic instrumentals, would bear the name "bluegrass."

Wiseman spent most of 1947 playing guitar with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, which then featured what came to be known as the group's classic lineup: fiddle player Chubby Wise, guitarist Lester Flatt, bass player Cedrick Rainwater (Howard Watts), banjoist Earl Scruggs, and Monroe on mandolin and lead vocals. As fate would have it, Wiseman also found himself taking part in one of the most historic "splits" in bluegrass music. In January of 1948, guitarist Flatt and banjo-picker extraordinaire Scruggs-- inventor of the much imitated three-fingered banjo picking style that now bears his name--left Monroe to form their own band, the Foggy Mountain Boys. Their departure from Monroe's band was not solo: Wise and Rainwater would also leave during the same period. Rainwater had linked up with Flatt & Scruggs and the Blue Grass- turned-Foggy Mountain Boys were now performing on WCYB. The group, which would record for Mercury from 1948 through 1950, featured Flatt, Scruggs, Rainwater on bass, and Jim Shumate on fiddle. As Neil Rosenberg notes of the high strung Father of Bluegrass in his classic Bluegrass: A History; "Monroe had previously had the experience of band members leaving him to strike out on their own. But he had never had most of the band leave and go into direct competition with him.... he did not like it." Wiseman would join the Foggy Mountain Boys during their first year--even playing second rhythm guitar and performing tenor vocals on the group's first recording for Mercury in 1948--then left to play guitar for Monroe's band for a season before launching his own band in 1950. While Wiseman successfully transcended the historic split, it would be several decades before the rift between Flatt & Scruggs and Monroe would heal.

After one year fronting his own band, Wiseman signed with Dot Records as a solo artist. His association with Dot--a new, independent record company based out of Gallatin, Tennessee--would be a long and fruitful one, producing a number of best-selling singles, including the recordings that have earned Wiseman his enduring reputation. Hits with Dot included "'Tis Sweet to Be Remembered," "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" (also a standard for the Foggy Mountain Boys), "Shackles and Chains," "The Ballad of Davy Crockett," and "Love Letters in the Sand."

While working on his recording career, Wiseman established himself as a solo performer beginning in 1951, when he starred on Shreveport's popular Louisiana Hayride. Stints on Atlanta's WSB Barn Dance, and Knoxville, Tennessee's Barn Dance would follow, as well as a guest-starring spot on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry. He joined the cast of Richmond, Virginia's WRVA Old Dominion Barn Dance in 1953, moving to a regular spot on Louisiana Hayride in 1956, which pushed his recordings with Dot to national hit status; Wiseman's poignant rendition of "Jimmy Brown the Newsboy" hung on to a spot on the Billboard charts for thirty-three weeks.

The late 1950s would find Wiseman moving to the business side of country. Mac wanted to hold onto his identity as a solo artist and, although his band had a distinctive sound, unlike a true bluegrass act his sidemen were always subordinate to his own lead vocals. "You could see the decline or lack of interest in country music," Wiseman recalled to Muleskinnner News interviewer Doug Green, describing the musical climate of the mid-1950s, "and rock music was coming on the scene. It was difficult to get exposure for a straight country product because the volume of the teen market was so big." So, in 1957 Wiseman became the now-California- based Dot Records' country music A&R (artists & repertoire) executive, a job he continued until 1961. During that period he also ran the company's country music division. He recorded and produced for Capitol Records during the early 1960s, returning to Dot in 1966 to record three albums' worth of experimental music featuring string orchestra-backed traditional tunes and folk music.

The phenomenal renewal of interest in traditional musical forms during the late 1950s was epitomized by the success of the historic Newport, Rhode Island, Folk Festivals. In addition to performing at Newport in 1959, Wiseman would become a frequent, and popular performer at many of the major festivals spawned by the Newport festival throughout the following decades. Among his many appearances was one at the groundbreaking Roanoke Bluegrass Festival organized by promoter Carleton Haney in Finecastle, Virginia, in 1965, and now considered to be the first large-scale all-bluegrass festival. During the 1970s, as interest in acoustic and folk music rose once again, Mac gained a large following among college students who were captivated by his pleasing vocals and his skillful renditions of traditional songs. In 1973 Wiseman was honored as the only U.S. bluegrass artist invited to perform at England's Wembley Music Festival.

Wiseman has remained a prolific recording artist throughout his career, cutting records for labels that have included Vetco, MGM, CMH, and RCA Victor, which he signed to in 1969. He experienced a resurgence of popularity among veteran bluegrass audiences when he teamed up with Flatt for some earthy bluegrass albums for RCA during the early 1970s, and also built a large following in Great Britain with regular tours and record releases following his appearance at Wembley.

One of the few bluegrass singers who hasn't maintained a regular band, Wiseman frequently teamed up with the popular Osborne Brothers in live performances during the 1980s and 1990s--his Essential Bluegrass Album, recorded with Sonny and Donny Osborne in 1979, is considered a gold mine of traditional bluegrass, much of which the trio would later perform in concert. Wiseman's rich, clear tenor can also be heard in several collaboration albums, such as banjoist Larry Perkins' A Touch of the Past (1993), which features Wiseman alongside such bluegrass notables as Scruggs, Alison Krauss, John Hartford, and award-winning bandleader Del McCoury.

In addition to the continued loyalty of his countless fans, Wiseman's pioneering contributions to bluegrass music have been officially acknowledged. In 1994 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association's Bluegrass Hall of Honor in Owensboro, Kentucky. Apart from the bluegrass festivals where he continues to perform, Wiseman has remained active behind the scenes in the bluegrass music industry. He has most recently recorded for independent labels Churchill Records and the Los Angeles-based CMH, all the while maintaining his traditional bluegrass style.

by Pamela Shelton

Mac Wiseman's Career

Disc jockey, WSVA, Harrisburg, VA, c. 1945; began performing with Molly O'Day, 1947; radio host, WCYB, Bristol, VA, 1947; joined Foggy Mountain Boys, 1948; played with Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys, 1949; started own band, 1950; signed with Dot Records, Gallatin, TN, 1951; regular member of Louisiana Hayride, beginning 1956; A&R executive, Dot Records, California, 1957-61; performed at Newport Folk Festival, 1959; signed with Capitol, 1962; resigned with Dot; signed with RCA, 1969; signed with CMH, 1976; has performed at numerous bluegrass festivals nationwide and in Great Britain.

Mac Wiseman's Awards

Inducted into International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame, 1994.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Books

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 4 years ago

When I was 14 years old { I'm now 71 }, I rushed home every evening to hear a country music show called Western Swing, on CFCF AM radio in Montreal, Canada, every weekday from 5:05 PM to 6 PM. I was touched by two songs of Mac Wiseman, "Bringing Mary Home" and "Tragic Romance" Since that time, I have become a big Bluegrass fan, and Mac will always be my favorite

almost 5 years ago

The first song I remember here Mac sing was: "I wonder how the old folks are at home". It was in the mid 50's. then I heard "Jimmy Brown", I still sing that song when at a family gathering.Love It. Then in the late 1980's I had the pleasure of meeting Mr.Mac Wiseman him self in Nova Scotia. he is truly down to earth. we had a person to person talk.I purchased an LP which I still have.

almost 5 years ago

His Voice truly touches my Heart. I have had the pleasure of seeing Mac perform many times. Once I asked him if he was the same Mac Wiseman that used to hang around the Rodger's store in Harriston, VA. He replied, I am the same Mac Wiseman, but I don't think you were there. This was my families store,and that was long before I was born. My grandmother, Dorothy Rodgers Jackson, once referred to Mac as a "jack squirt".

about 5 years ago

This man was my grandmother's second husband's cousin, and I heard a lot about him when I was growing up; having a celebrity in the family was one of those things we tended to talk about... I know it's no big deal having a famous grandmother's second husband's cousin, but I always thought it was neat.

over 5 years ago

How well we remember the classic Mac Wiseman band of 1951 consisting of Joe Medford (Banjo), Ted Mullins (mandolin), Ralph Mayo (fiddle) and Don Davis (bass fiddle) on daily KWKH programs and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport with such great songs such as "I'm A Stranger," "Little White Church," and "I Wonder How the Old Folks Are At Home." This music will never die!

over 5 years ago

Mac Wiseman is one of my favorite Bluegrass Singers.I've got alot of cds of him & I think his music is real down to earth Country.My favorite songs by him are Mansion on the hill,Silver hair daddy,Maple sugar sweetheart, Heads you win tails I lose,Poor ellen Smith,ETC Tommy

over 5 years ago

Does anyone have a copy of the old song, "Mound of Clay", sung by Mac? If so, can you tell me the name of the record company, the album or any information where I might be able to order it from say Amazon or the record company. Thanx, F. Hill

over 5 years ago

No one phrases a line of classic country better than Mac Wiseman. And with his choices of musicians to accompany him over the years, how clearly he must have instructed them prior to each recording. In his 1950s recording of "Remembering," the double violin work is comparable to a written J.S. Bach arrangement, and all the instruments in the recording seem to be doing exactly what they should. Yet this was a "head arrangement" complementing his seemingly spontaneous yet so intelligent phrasing. When a definitive history not only of Mountain Music (which is what we called it in the '50s), but all American "troubadour" music is written, John Jacob Niles will probably be seen as the Country's greatest scholar of the art, and Burl Ives its unfailingly entertaining, inviting teacher. But Mac Wiseman is Country Music's "philosopher." With the twinkle of an eye, he begins coyly phrasing a ballad that takes us for those three minutes into the heart of what makes Country Music a great art.

almost 6 years ago

Mr. Mac Wiseman has the most beautiful voice in country music. I grew up listening to his music.

about 6 years ago

I listened to Mac Wiseman growing up, learned to play guitar and when everyone else was loving Elvis, I loved Mac and was picking "Wild Fire", "I Saw Your Face in the Moon", and "Shackles and Chains" to name a few. I finally met him many years ago but haven't heard anything from him for a long time. I wonder if he is still alive and/or healthy?

about 6 years ago

Always listened to mac wiseman growing up in Brooklyn N Y.I haven't had the pleasure of seeing any of his performances'

almost 7 years ago

I've enjoyed Mac's singing since hearing him back in the 1960's. His albums have been consistently good and I've had the pleasure of seeing him, here in the UK, on several occasions. His latest album with John Prine is a gem, and Mac is never afraid to tackle something new, even the older "pop" songs breathe new life with Mac's interpretation.Mac is, apparently, "winding down". I wish him well for the future and I will enjoy his music for many years to come. Clive Downes