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Uncle Dave Macon
Birth name David Harrison Macon
Also known as "Dixie Dewdrop"
Born October 7, 1870
Origin Smartt Station, Tennessee, USA
Died March 22, 1952 (aged 81)
Genres Old time music
Occupations Vaudeville entertainer
Instruments Banjo
Years active 1920s – 1952
Members
Country Music Hall of Fame
Former members
Grand Ole Opry
(1925 – 1952)
Notable instruments
Banjo

Uncle Dave Macon (October 7, 1870 — March 22, 1952)—also known as "The Dixie Dewdrop"—was an American banjo player, singer, songwriter, and comedian. Known for his chin whiskers, plug hat, gold teeth, and gates-ajar collar, he gained regional fame as a vaudeville performer in the early 1920s before going on to become the first star of the Grand Ole Opry in the latter half of the decade.

Macon's music is considered the ultimate bridge between 19th-century American folk and vaudeville music and the phonograph and radio-based music of the early 20th-century. Music historian Charles Wolfe wrote, "If people call yodelling Jimmie Rodgers 'the father of country music,' then Uncle Dave must certainly be 'the grandfather of country music'."[1] Macon's polished stage presence and lively personality have made him one of the most enduring figures of early country music.[2]

Contents

Early life

David Harrison Macon was born in Smartt Station, Tennessee (about 5 miles south of McMinnville), the son of Confederate Captain John Macon and his wife Martha Ramsey. In 1884, when young David was thirteen years old, his family moved to Nashville, Tennessee to run the Old Broadway Hotel, which they had purchased. The hotel became a center for Macon and his growing musical interests, as it was frequented by artists and troupers traveling along various vaudeville circuits and circus acts.[2] In 1885, he learned to play the banjo with the assistance of a circus comedian called Joel Davidson.[3] While in Nashville, he attended Hume-Fogg High School.[2] A tragedy struck the Macon family when his father was murdered in 1886 outside the hotel.[4][5] The hotel was sold and the family quickly moved to Readyville, Tennessee,[6] where his mother ran a stagecoach stop. Macon began entertaining the passengers who arrived at the rest stop by playing the banjo from a home made stage.[2]

In 1889, Macon married Matilda Richardson and moved to a farm near Kittrell, Tennessee, where they in time raised six sons. Around 1900, Macon opened a freight line between Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. It was called The Macon Midway Mule and Wagon Transportation Company. Often, when Macon was driving along with his mules, hauling freight and produce, he would entertain people by singing and playing the banjo at various stops along the way. In time, his sons became part of the company as they grew up. But the arrival of an automobile-based competitor threatened his mule company, and he was forced to close down in 1920.[3]

Professional career

Although Macon had performed as an amateur for years, and was well known for his showmanship, Macon's first professional performance came in 1921 at a schoolhouse in Morrison, Tennessee as part of a Methodist church benefit show. In 1923, during a performance for the shriners in Nashville, he was spotted by Marcus Loew of Loews Theatres who offered Macon fifteen dollars if he was to perform at a theater in Alabama.[7][8] Macon accepted and went to Alabama. After the show he was confronted by the manager of Loews Theatres in Birmingham who wanted to hire him to perform in Birmingham. Macon's salary was going to be several hundred dollars a week. This led to many offers from other theaters in the Loew's Vaudeville circuit. Thus, at age fifty, Macon became successful as an entertainer and his popularity increased. As a result a rival vaudeville circuit, the Keith-Albee-Orpheum Corporation, tried to lure him away from the Loew's circuit but to no avail.[7]

In 1923 he began a tour in the south-eastern United States together with fiddler Sid Harkreader and five other acts. By this time, the distributors of Vocalion Records, the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company, had begun to notice Macon and they realised his potential as a successful recording artist. On July 8, 1924, Macon and Harkreader cut their first recordings for Vocalion in New York.[9] In this first session which was extended over several days they recorded eighteen songs altogether.[10] In 1925, Macon and Harkreader added a buck dancer to their act, "Dancing Bob" Bradford. Their continuing tours for the Loew's circuit included comedy, buck-dancing and old time music.[9] In late 1925, Macon met the blacksmith and guitarist Sam McGee who was to become Macon's regular recording and performance partner.[11] On November 6, 1925, Macon and Harkreader performed at the Ryman Auditorium—the future home of the Grand Ole Opry— for the benefit of the Nashville police force. The successful show took place only three weeks before WSM Grand Ole Opry was founded.[12]

Macon was one of the first performers at the newly founded WSM radio station. It is not known exactly when he was hired but on December 26, 1925, Macon and fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson appeared together on the WSM Saturday night program. Macon's career at WSM lasted twenty-six years, but because he was constantly touring, he wasn't a regular performer at WSM's Grand Ole Opry.[13] In early 1927, Macon formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers, consisting of Macon, Sam McGee, Kirk McGee and Mazy Todd.[14] The Fruit Jar Drinkers recorded for the first time on May 7, 1927.[15] Although the group's repertoire mainly consisted of traditional songs and fiddle numbers, they would occasionally record sacred songs and when that occurred, Macon would temporarily alter the group's name to the Dixie Sacred Singers.[14]

In December 1930, Macon recorded for Okeh Records and later in 1934 for Gennett Records. On January 22, 1935, he began recording for Bluebird Records with the Delmore Brothers and a few years later in 1938 he recorded with Glenn "Smoky Mountain" Stagner.[16] Between 1930 and 1952, Macon was often accompanied by his son Dorris who played the guitar. In 1940 Macon— together with Opry founder George D. Hay, rising Opry star Roy Acuff, and Dorris Macon— received an invitation from Hollywood to take part in the Republic Pictures movie Grand Ole Opry. The film contains rare footage of Macon performing, including a memorable duet of "Take Me Back to My Carolina Home" with Dorris in which the 69-year old Macon jumps out of his seat and dances throughout the second half of the song. Although Macon toured with Bill Monroe in the late 1940s, he was neither impressed by the new bluegrass style nor by the banjo picking of Monroe's bandmate Earl Scruggs.[17]

Aftermath

Macon continued to perform until March 1, 1952. He died three weeks later on March 22, 1952 at Rutherford County Hospital in Murfreesboro. His funeral was visited by more than five thousand people and his pallbearers were George D. Hay, Kirk McGee, Roy Acuff, and Bill Monroe.[18] He was inducted posthumously into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966. A monument was erected near Woodbury. His son Dorris and several bandmates (often including Sam and Kirk McGee) made sporadic appearances on the Grand Ole Opry as the Fruit Jar Drinkers until the early 1980s.

Every July the town of Murfreesboro celebrates "Uncle Dave Macon Days." This celebration hosts the national competitions for old time clogging, buckdancing, fiddling, and old time singing. In 2007 they celebrated their 30th year of the festival. It was named in honor of Uncle Dave Macon and his work to keep the tradition of old-time music and dancing alive.

Repertoire and style

While Uncle Dave Macon recorded over 170 songs between 1924 and 1938, in his day he was most notable for his polished and lively stage presence. Bandmate Kirk McGee later described Macon's personality as a never-ending performance— "All day long, from morning till midnight, it was a show."[19] While playing, Macon would often kick and stomp, and shout sporadically, taxing the skills of WSM's early volume-control engineers. His performance style can be discerned to some extent from his early recordings, in which he whoops and hollers amidst relatively aggressive vocal deliveries.[19]

Macon played an open-backed Gibson banjo on most of his recordings, and while contemporary musicians didn't consider him a particularly skillful banjo player, modern musicologists have identified no less than 19 picking styles on Macon's recordings.[2][19] Macon's favorite tunes included "A Soldier's Joy", "Bully of the Town", The Arkansas Traveler, and "Sail Away, Ladies".[2][20] Macon claimed to have learned the song "Rock About My Saro Jane" from black stevedores working along the Cumberland River in the 1880s.[2] The song "Buddy Won't You Roll Down the Line" was inspired by the Coal Creek War, an East Tennessee labor uprising in the 1890s.[21] In the song "From Here to Heaven", Macon describes his days hauling goods between Woodbury and Murfreesboro for his shipping company.[20] Macon's favorite hymn was "How Beautiful Heaven Must Be", which is inscribed on his monument near Woodbury.[2]

Albums

Notes

  1. ^ Heartaches By the Number, Cantwell, David & Friskics-Warren, Bill, Vanderbilt University Press, 2003, pg. 70
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Wolfe, pp. 320-321.
  3. ^ a b Malone, p. 42.
  4. ^ Bogdanov, p. 462.
  5. ^ Brunvand, p. 457.
  6. ^ Malone, p. 41.
  7. ^ a b Malone, p. 43.
  8. ^ Although some sources like Bogdanov, p. 462 and Green, p.80 say that he was discovered by a talent agent of Loews Theatres when he and Harkreader were singing at a barbershop in Nashville.
  9. ^ a b Malone, p. 44.
  10. ^ Russell, Pinson, pp. 573.
  11. ^ Malone, p. 45.
  12. ^ Russell, p. 12.
  13. ^ Malone, p. 46.
  14. ^ a b Malone, p. 47.
  15. ^ Russell, Pinson, p. 575.
  16. ^ Russell, Pinson, p. 578.
  17. ^ Malone, p. 49.
  18. ^ Malone, p. 50.
  19. ^ a b c Hurst, 94-99.
  20. ^ a b Larkin, 418.
  21. ^ Lyle Lofgren, "Shut Up In the Coal Creek Mine." Originally published in March 2006 edition of Inside Bluegrass. Retrieved: 10 May 2009.

References

  • Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music, Backbeat Books, 2003
  • Jan Harold Brunvand, American Folklore: An Encyclopedia, Taylor & Francis, 1996
  • Douglas B. Green, Classic Country Singers, Gibbs Smith, 2008
  • Jack Hurst, Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, H.N. Abrams Books, 1975.
  • Colin Larkin (editor), "Uncle Dave Macon", The Encyclopedia of Popular Music Vol. 5, Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • Bill C. Malone, Judith McCulloh, Stars of Country Music: Uncle Dave Macon to Johnny Rodriguez, University of Illinois Press, 1975
  • Tony Russell, Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost, ‎Oxford University Press, 2007
  • Tony Russell, Bob Pinson, Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, 2004
  • Charles Wolfe, "Uncle Dave Macon", The Encyclopedia of Country Music: The Ultimate Guide to the Music, 1998.

External links

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