Banjo player Wade Macey passed away peacefully on March 26, 2018 at the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He was 82 years old.
A Mount Airy resident, Dr. Wade Thomas Macey was born in the Surry County city on January 13, 1936.
He was raised in a musical environment and was given his first banjo – built by his father at his place of work, the Mount Airy Furniture Factory – at just five years of age. The instrument was fretless and had a wooden top rather than skin or plastic.
As a young child Macey acquired his performance skills in much the same manner as other old-time musicians, watching local players such as Rufus and Claud Edwards and imitating their actions. He first learned the old-time clawhammer technique only later picking up the three-finger method made popular by Earl Scruggs. Macey spent his Sundays at Tommy Jarrell’s home in nearby Toast, North Carolina, learning new tunes by rote, and, like most in the area, he grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry each Saturday evening.
Also, he learned to play the guitar, fiddle and mandolin before returning to play the banjo, as his preferred instrument of choice.
As a teenager Macey was associated with Radio WPAQ since the station’s beginning, playing weekly for live shows, for some time as a member of the Dixie Ramblers; and then with “Uncle” Joe Johnson and the Blue Mountain Boys. He was a founding member of the Merry Go Round, a live music program featuring local musicians that is still presented every Saturday (11:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m.).
While at WPAQ he made the acquaintance of Mac Wiseman. In 1953 during one of Wiseman’s many trips to Mount Airy, he asked Macey to accompany him on tour. Macey accepted the invitation and he spent the summer between his junior and senior years at high school on the road. The band was based in Richmond, Virginia, and rarely travelled west of the Mississippi river. Each Saturday evening Macey performed with Wiseman’s group at WRVA’s Old Dominion Barn Dance.
Wiseman encouraged Macey to complete his high school education. So he returned to his studies in Mount Airy and then went on to pursue an academic career.
Macey graduated from high school and went on to study mathematics at Gilford College at Greensboro, in North Carolina. He earned an MS and a PhD in mathematics from Florida State University in 1962 and 1970, respectively.
Subsequently, he taught mathematics at Emory University (from 1962 to 1965), at Pfeiffer College (from 1967 to 1982), and at Appalachian State University (from 1982 to 1987), where he became professor emeritus in 1997.
In later years he continued to play the banjo with the Dixie Ramblers at local events.
As a pioneer of bluegrass music on WPAQ, Macey is featured in the Jordan Nance documentary Broadcast: A Man and His Dream, talking about the early history of the radio station.
In 2010 he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Museum in Owensboro, Kentucky, as a Pioneer of Bluegrass Music.
R.I.P. Wade Macey
Visitation will be tomorrow Friday, March 30, 2018, from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. at Moody Funeral Home, 206 West Pine Street, Mount Airy, North Carolina 27030.
A celebration of life service will be held at 2:00pm in the Moody Chapel and burial will follow at Skyline Memorial Gardens.
In lieu of flowers memorials may be made to the International Bluegrass Music Museum; the Kate B. Reynolds Hospice Home; the Alzheimer’s Association, Western Carolina Chapter; or to the charity of your choice.