Uncle Dave Macon
1. Uncle Dave Macon was a charter member and the first superstar of the Grand Ole Opry when it began airing on WSM radio in Nashville in 1925. He was one of the most colorful personalities in the history of music. Many banjo players consider him a major influence.
2. Uncle Dave, who was born in Warren County, was well over the age of 50 before he starting playing the banjo professionally. He continued to perform until he died in 1952 at the age of 81 in Readyville. He was inducted posthumously into the County Music Hall of Fame in 1966.
3. Uncle Dave was an extremely skilled banjo player. Music historians have identified at least 19 different picking styles on his records. Macon is considered a skilled songwriter, master showman and outrageous comedian. He blended the content of Highland folk songs with the musical stylings of the blues and the energy of vaudeville from Tin Pan Alley.
4. Macon was a master of musical sleight of hand and this showmanship was a staple of his performances. He would flip his banjo in the air in the midst of picking and a singing and catch it without a break in the music. With his banjo planted on the floor, Macon would strum the instrument with his Derby hat while walking around the banjo.
5. Before playing the banjo professionally, Uncle Dave hauled freight by mule and cart from Woodbury to Murfreesboro. Around 1900, there were four grocery stores on the Murfreesboro Public Square. As Macon would make his deliveries he would start singing. He would start plucking on his banjo on the way home when his work was done.
6. Born David Harrison Macon, the charismatic musician introduced himself as “Uncle Dave” to break the ice when he would provide entertainment for school children as he passed by in his freight cart. The name stuck. Grand Ole Opry founder Judge George D. Hay gave Macon the nickname “Dixie Dewdrop”.
7. A talent scout booked Uncle Dave to play in Birmingham, Ala, after his first paid gig in 1918. He sought to make money from his music and comedy after automobiles put his freight company out of business.
8. From l924 through l938, Uncle Dave recorded more than l80 songs for almost every major label. He also recorded and performed often with flat-top guitarist Sam McGee, his brother Kirk, and Macon’s own son Dorris. For a time in the l930s, Macon worked with the Delmore Brothers as well as with young Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. Macon was a highlight of the l940 film Grand Ole Opry, in which he sang and danced around his banjo to “Take Me Back to My Carolina Home.”
9. Uncle Dave’s father was Confederate Civil War Capt. John Macon. In 1883, the elder Macon purchased the Broadway Hotel in Nashville, which was the unofficial headquarters of southern entertainers and minstrels. This is where Dave Macon is said to have learned much of his performance style. The family moved to Readyville in 1885 after John Macon was stabbed to death near the hotel. Uncle Dave was a witness to the murder.
10. Uncle Dave was good friends with harmonica player Deford Bailey, the first black man to appear on the Grand Ole Opry. Macon and Bailey played and traveled together in the South when a white man and black couldn't easily travel together due to Jim Crow laws.
11. Macon’s log home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stands off the old Woodbury Pike in Kittrell. He is buried nearby in Coleman Cemetery just down the road from Cripple Creek, which was the subject of one of his best-known songs.
Sources: Country Music Hall of Fame, Rutherford County historian Charles Wolf and Evan Hatch, folklorist at the Arts Center of Cannon County.