Mac Wiseman receives NEA honor

Mac Wiseman The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) yesterday announced the 2008 recipients of the NEA National Heritage Fellowships, the country’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.

Mac Wiseman was among the eleven fellowships, which include a one-time award of $20,000 each.

These awardees were chosen for their artistic excellence and contributions to our nation’s cultural heritage. They represent a cross-section of ethnic cultures and traditions and art forms ranging from saddle making and dance to bluegrass music and drum making.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Dana Gioia said, “It is important to recognize the diverse traditional arts that enrich America’s cultural landscape and to award those whose dedication and artistry are so integral to the continuation of these art forms.”

Wiseman joins the ranks of previous Heritage Fellows in the bluegrass field such as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, Kenny Baker, Hazel Dickens, Jerry Douglas and Doyle Lawson. Others include Tommy Jarrell, Doc Watson, Lily May Ledford, Wade Mainer, Ola Belle Reed, Nimrod Workman, Elizabeth Cotton, Fairfield Four, Wayne Henderson, Jean Ritchie and Janette Carter.

Since 1982, the Endowment has awarded 338 NEA National Heritage Fellowships.

The 2008 awardees will participate in a series of events in Washington DC during September, including a banquet at the Library of Congress, an awards presentation on Capitol Hill as well as a concert scheduled for Friday, September 19, at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland.

This is what the NEA website has to say about Wiseman …..

Mac Wiseman was born in Crimora, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley. Both of his parents sang old ballads around the house and would play recordings of early country musicians for entertainment. Wiseman began to sing in public at the age of 12, but he was stricken with polio in his youth and that curtailed his performances for a time. With the help of the National Foundation of Polio, he attended music school in Dayton, Virginia. Soon he was singing on a local radio station in Harrisonburg, and in 1946 he joined the band of Molly O’Day who taught him songs, singing style, and a love of the classic country repertoire.

Wiseman became an original member of Lester Flatt’s and Earl Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys, recording his first Mercury session with them in 1948, and in 1949 he joined Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass (sic) Boys at the Grand Ole Opry. In 1951, he began his solo career, gaining fame as having the “voice with a heart,” and recording such classics as Tis Sweet to Be Remembered, Love Letters in the Sand, Jimmie Brown, The Newsboy and Shackles and Chains.

Wiseman went to Hollywood in 1957 to head the country music section of Dot Records. Along with other music industry leaders, in 1958 he co-founded the Country Music Association for which he was the first Secretary Treasurer. During the 1960s he often opened for Johnny Cash at folk festivals such as Newport and Mariposa, as well as opening for Cash at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl.

Still known for his soulful high tenor singing, in 2007 Mac Wiseman and songwriter John Prine released a well-received duet album entitled Standard Songs for Average People. Wiseman recorded three still unreleased numbers with Johnny Cash in what turned out to be Cash’s final sessions.

Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in folk and traditional arts on the basis of their continuing artistic accomplishments and contributions as practitioners and teachers. This year a nine-member panel reviewed 235 nominations for the 11 fellowships. The ratio of winners to nominees indicates the extraordinary level of competition for this national honor.

The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest annual national funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.