Univ. of Illinois Press 9780252083655. Paperback, 288 pp., 36 b&w photos, $19.95. (Univ. of Illinois Press, 11030 S. Langley Ave., Chicago, IL 60628, press.uillinois.edu.)

The grand old man of the Grand Ole Opry, David Macon, was an unlikely star. Born into a large family, he lived in and around Nashville growing up. Times were tough in the South after the devastation of the great war that divided our nation, and he and his family felt it. He farmed and hauled freight with mule-drawn wagons between Murfreesboro and Woodbury. He soon learned that the newfangled motorized trucks could do his job faster than he could. His life was idyllic, at least on one level prior to this revelation. He would take a banjo with him everywhere he went and would play music with folks along the way. He often picked up new songs and tunes doing this.

The author is the great-grandson of Uncle Dave Macon. There are subtle bits of information garnered from family lore without cloying familial references. The author leans heavily on the extensive research of the late Dr. Charles Wolfe, up to now held by many as the most extensive researcher of Uncle Dave Macon and the early Grand Ole Opry. This volume is the manifestation of many hours of due diligence. He researched not only previous works, but also garnered information from family and others to gain an acute insight not only into the aspects of life of the Macon family, but also life in central Tennessee from the post-war period until the early half of the last century.

This biography is of a man, his music and his times. We trace Uncle Dave’s life from boyhood through his early years to the time when he became a professional musician. We see how his music was a constant part of his life and how it became the force that filled the last thirty years of his life. Timing is everything in music and life and Uncle Dave’s irrepressible personality fulfilled the prophesy of his heart. A man in his fifties becomes an early star of the Grand Ole Opryfor the next thirty years. His long relationship with George D. Hay, the long time WSM radio announcer as the “The Solemn Old Judge,” is described here in detail. Uncle Dave was also important for helping launch many other’s careers, including the McGee Brothers, the Delmore Brothers, and Fiddling Sid Harkreader.

There’s a nice section of photographs and appendices addressing the Macon lineage and familial relationships, detailed notes for each chapter, notes on the songs discussed, and an extensive bibliography. This is a fine piece of academic research that breathes with the life of the subject on each page.RCB

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