Mac Wiseman, Bluegrass Legend, Dies at 93

Mac Wiseman
Alan Poizner/CMA 

Mac Wiseman attends the Country Music Hall of Fame inductee’s announcement on April 22, 2014 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tenn.

Mac Wiseman, bluegrass singer and Country Music Hall of Fame member, died on Sunday (Feb. 24) at age 93.

Known as “The Voice with a Heart,” Wiseman was one of the founders of the Country Music Association in 1958, also serving as the association’s Board of Directors’ first secretary. He left an indelible mark on the genre for over 60 years as a recording artist, radio DJ and record label executive. The CMA confimed Wiseman's death on Monday morning (Feb. 25), with CMA CEO Sarah Trahern writing, “Mac Wiseman was not only a key figure in the history of Country Music, but also in the history of our organization. I enjoyed my personal relationship with Mac, and both he and Jo Walker Meador shared rich stories of the early days of CMA. Mac made a broad impact on both the music and business sides of our industry. He deeply understood how Country Music worked thanks to his eclectic history, and he was an early adopter of the idea that our format is strengthened when we all step into the circle together.”

Wiseman was born Malcolm B. Wiseman on May 23, 1925, in Crimora, Virginia, surrounded by the music and history of the Shenandoah Valley. He was diagnosed with polio as a child and learned to play guitar while laid up in bed to fix a disabled foot. His career began behind the mic after majoring in radio at the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, eventually acquiring a job at WSVA in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

He’d later work with artists including Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs to help change the course of modern day bluegrass and country music. The final surviving member of Flatt & Scruggs’ original Foggy Mountain Boys, Wiseman was also a member of Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and Molly O’Day’s band, as well as an esteemed solo performer.

Recognized for his diverse high tenor and ability to interpret bluegrass standards, Wiseman saw his first solo success with his 1951 hit “Tis Sweet to Be Remembered.” He’d continue with “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” “Shackles & Chains,” “I’ll Be All Smiles Tonight,” “Love Letters in the Sand” and “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy,” which marked his highest charting single at No. 5 in 1959. 

The late singer also worked at his label, Dot Records, as an executive. He signed with the independent label in 1951, working closely with owner Randy Wood. He’d later serve as an in-house producer and help to run the label’s California division.

Wiseman released his final album, I Sang The Song (Life Of The Voice With A Heart), in 2017. A project that tells the story of the singer’s life, it also featured collaborations with Alison KraussShawn Camp and Sierra Hull. In an interview with Billboard at the time of the album’s release, the singer explained his love of story songs.

“As long as I can remember, the story-type songs have treated me tremendously. I remember when I was four or five years old, there were songs like ‘Granny’s Old Arm Chair,’ which was an old English ballad,” he told Billboard of his first memories of the style. “It talked about this guy’s grandmother that was living with him, and she had this favorite old chair that she would sit in. She passed away, and left all the children a pretty good inheritance. But, she gave him that old arm chair. He kept the chair, and years later, he became quite elderly. That chair fell down, and it was full of money -- one-pound English pound notes. That’s the kind of songs that have done well for me my whole life.”

Wiseman worked with Peter Cooper, a director, producer and writer at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, for the project. Cooper sat with Wiseman and listened to the stories of his youth and helped put them to song with the help of co-producer Thomm Jutz. 

“Mac’s stories can’t be replicated, and they are stories of a world that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s a world that he holds dear,” Cooper said at the time. “Mac is the only person we know who actually heard Jimmie Rodgers on the radio -- back in the day. He was there for the birth of bluegrass music, as well as the last living original board member of the CMA. The breadth of experiences is incredible.”

Wiseman co-founded the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in 1986. Several years later, in 1993, he was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame. In 2008, Wiseman was named a National Heritage Fellowship recipient and in 2014 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is survived by his five children. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced in the coming days.