UNCLE DAVE MACON
Why was Uncle Dave so popular for so long?
A number of country music historians and commentators have considered the life and career of Uncle Dave Macon to determine why he was so popular for so long. All agree on one aspect of Uncle Dave’s persona; he was unique! Uncle Dave’s deportment was unlike any other entertainer of that time or perhaps ever since. Roy Acuff summed it up best: “Uncle Dave copied no one, and no one else was able to imitate him.” In short, Dave Macon was memorable because his personal appearance, musical abilities and professional demeanor were a cut above that of his contemporaries.
His natural talent as a musician, singer, comedian and social commentator captivated audiences. Uncle Dave was primarily a banjoist and vocalist, but hilarious jokes, physical antics, country philosophy, and biting commentaries on politics, religion, economics and the battle between the sexes always put big smiles and laughter on the faces of live audiences and radio listeners. And people needed a laugh. The peak of his career spanned the years 1930-1945, an extremely tumultuous period when Americans faced economic hardships and war. As folks listened to Uncle Dave, they could forget about their own troubles for awhile. His funeral in March 1952 was the second largest ever in the state of Tennessee, unmistakable evidence of the number of people he had touched during a music career of over three decades.
Uncle Dave also earned a reputation as an effective promoter and business manager. He never had an agent, but rather developed his own network of local promoters who booked him for shows in schools, theaters, conventions and other venues. He also successfully managed his own business affairs and was willing to mentor younger performers who struggled to advance their music careers. He was always fair and considerate in his treatment and dealings with his fellow country music stars, and at the end of his life, Uncle Dave was personally proud of the fact that he had never been sued or taken to court regarding his business dealings.
Uncle Dave altered his performance methods to take advantage of changing economic conditions and new, emerging technologies. At the start of his career in the 1920s, he was at the forefront of the development of the commercial radio and recording industries. By performing on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry radio broadcasts and cutting records in New York City and Chicago, Uncle Dave kept his image and music before the public. When the Great Depression hit, he was at the forefront of the new movement of rural, outdoor music festivals and traveling tent shows. When the first country music film was produced in 1940, Uncle Dave was a featured star. He allegedly even made a number of television appearances in the late 1940s.
Uncle Dave’s music legacy still lives on. In 1966 he was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Uncle Dave Macon Days music festival, held annually in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, still honors his memory. His recordings still garner respectable sales, bearing witness to his enduring popularity and universal appeal with listeners. – Mike Doubler