“Uncle” Dave Macon was a much-loved banjoist, a performer of so-called ‘old time music’ in the early 20th century, and a seminal figure in the foundation of roots, folk, or country musics as we think of them today. Macon was born in 1870, only a few years after the end of the Civil War, when minstrel shows had reached their peak popularity and made the whole country crazy for banjos, though unfortunately stereotyping and denigrating African American culture in the process. Macon grew up as American audiences shifted away from the rough-hewn comedy and entertainment stylings of minstrelsy towards a newer, more family-friendly form of entertainment, vaudeville, and became one of its greatest stars.
The many recordings and few videos capturing his performances showed him to be a boisterous, exuberant performer, even into old age, but occasionally a more genteel side comes to the fore. In the 1926 recording of his “Beloved Solo”, Macon begins with perhaps a nostalgic gesture, quoting the popular 19th century hymn “Rock Of Ages, Cleft For Me” as assurance that he is, like the presumed listener, a man of God. With that assurance, he then delivers a beautiful, poignant, and still virtuosic performance I’ve tried to recapture here.