Mr. Wiseman sang lead on Monroe’s “Travelin’ Down This Lonesome Road” (1949), recorded with Flatt and Scruggs, and was most identified with the bluegrass gospel standard, “Tis Sweet To Be Remembered,” which he first recorded in 1951.
That year, he started his own band, the Country Boys, which included stalwart instrumentalists such as banjoist Eddie Adcock. He recorded a string of hit singles for Nashville’s Dot Records including the ballad “I Still Write Your Name in the Sand” (1952) and up-tempo barn burners such as “Goin’ Like Wildfire” and “Crazy Blues,” both from 1954.
Working as the record label’s country artist and repertoire man, he produced other acts such as Reno & Smiley as well as Cowboy Copas.
“He had a talent for taking something old and making it sound fresh and new,” music researcher Jay Bruder said. “So many of his Dot recordings were pop songs from the 1920s and ’30s, even as far back as the 1880s.” Mr. Wiseman pushed Dot to record two versions of the 1931 pop song “Love Letters in the Sand,” in the late 1950s — a Wiseman rendition in the country market and the pop version by teen idol Pat Boone.
Bluegrass historian Dick Spottswood compared Mr. Wiseman to Texas-born jazz trombonist and singer Jack Teagarden.
Mr. Wiseman, Spottswood said, “brought elements of Shenandoah Valley mountain ballads into bluegrass just as Teagarden brought in elements of East Texas blues into jazz — and they both had an affinity for ancient pop tunes.” Spottswood described Mr. Wiseman as “a country cosmopolitan [who] didn’t abandon one thing to embrace another. He saw each genre as part of the broader music palette.”
And Mr. Wiseman’s collaborations bear that out — he recorded with big-band leader Woody Herman, singer-songwriter John Prine and, in the short-lived band the GrooveGrass Boyz, funk bassist Bootsy Collins.
Whether performing “The Ballad of Davy Crockett,” “Me and Bobby McGee” or such tear-jerkers as “Jimmy Brown the Newsboy,” Mr. Wiseman specialized in songs with a strong narrative thread.
“I didn’t care whether it was ‘The Waltz You Saved For Me’ or a rock tune,” Mr. Wiseman told the Tennessean newspaper in 2012. “I did it my way. I wanted them to know it was my record.”
Malcolm Bell Wiseman was born in Crimora, Va., on May 23, 1925. The family farm lacked electricity, but he heard folk singer Bradley Kincaid broadcast from Chicago on a battery-operated radio.
“I didn’t realize, till many years later, the effect that Bradley Kincaid had on me,” he told music critic Barry Mazor in 2005, “because he did the old ballads and story-songs, but he was an educated guy. He had a college education. Also, he was a businessman. I guess I’d have to say that I patterned myself after him.”
At 6, he contracted polio and, in his preteen years, endured multiple surgeries to correct a twisted leg. He took up a guitar — a $3.99 Sears model — while recuperating. A polio charity paid for his college music studies at Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, then in Dayton, Va., while he worked as an announcer at a radio station in nearby Harrisonburg.
“The radio experience gave me a great command of the diction of songs, where you can understand my lyrics and the words as I was saying them,” he once told NPR. “If people have to try to figure out what you’re saying or singing, you’ve lost their attention.”
Mr. Wiseman first recorded as a bassist with old-timey singer Molly O’Day in 1946. Flatt and Scruggs hired him as a rhythm guitarist in 1948 and, the following year, he joined Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. He later was part of the casts of radio shows such as “Louisiana Hayride” and “Old Dominion Barn Dance.”
A detailed list of survivors could not be confirmed.
Mr. Wiseman was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1993 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2014. In 2015, he wrote a memoir with Walt Trott, “Mac Wiseman: All My Memories Fit for Print.”
He remained busy in his autumnal years. In 2017, he recorded the album “I Sang the Song (Life of the Voice With a Heart),” a collection of largely autobiographical songs.
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