A research grant as well as a sizable collection of memorabilia from the family of the late Uncle Dave Macon will provide research opportunities at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University to learn more about a man regarded as the first superstar of the Grand Ole Opry.
“Our fellowship has provided funding to support historical research into the life, legacy and music of Uncle Dave Macon,” said Mike Doubler, executive director of the Macon-Doubler Fellowship, a family-driven nonprofit that promotes the preservation of Uncle Dave Macon history.
The inaugural cycle of the fellowship grant is underway, and applications are available at https://www.mtsu.edu/popmusic/macondoublergrant.php.
With money donated by the Macon-Doubler Fellowship, the Macon-Doubler Travel Grant Program will award $1,000 annually to a hand-selected scholar interested in visiting the Center for Popular Music to use the archival collection of memorabilia and music of David “Uncle Dave” Macon and Uncle Dave Macon Days old-time music festival.
“The collection features everything related to the history of Uncle Dave’s career and life,” explained Center for Popular Music Director Greg Reish, who accepted the grant on behalf of MTSU at a ceremony held Nov. 20 at the center’s location on the first floor of the Bragg Media and Entertainment Building.
Great-grandchildren of Uncle Dave Macon were on hand for the announcement, including Mike Doubler, Paul Doubler, John Doubler, Katie Doubler Steuart and Bernie Doubler. Their mother was Mary Macon Doubler, daughter of Macon’s eldest son, Archie Macon.
“We’re delighted to be able to do this and have you folks take care of our great-grandfather’s legacy,” said Bernie Doubler, eldest of the siblings and a retired Delta Airlines pilot who became the first graduate of MTSU’s Aerospace Program in 1970.
Long before Macon took his spot in the limelight, he ran a wagon freight business in Rutherford County, Tennessee, where MTSU is located. He and his wife, Matilda Macon, raised seven boys in the Kittrell Community located on the outer edges of the county. He wouldn’t embark on a professional music career until he was in his 50s.
“He started playing on the Grand Ole Opry in 1925 and played regularly until his death in 1952,” author and historian Mike Doubler said. “He was at the beginning of the country music complex in terms of the Opry, recording and WSM Radio. Uncle Dave was there the whole time.”
But Macon was more than a musician. He was an entertainer in the Vaudeville tradition, which combined music with emotion, comedy, drama and faith, Doubler explained.
Over the span of 30 years, Macon built a repertoire of around 400 songs and recorded at least 110 of them. Many of those recordings are available in the collection at CPM.
A notable chunk of Uncle Dave Macon research comes from the Charles K. Wolfe Audio Collection, which boasts over three dozen recorded interviews of family members and those who knew the Grand Ole Opry star. Wolfe, an MTSU English professor who retired the year before his death in 2006, gathered countless recordings and interviews relating to the nation’s popular and vernacular music.
Most of the rest of the materials at the CPM was donated from the family and features items Doubler used in research for his book, “Dixie Dewdrop: The Uncle Dave Macon Story,” published in 2018. There’s sheet music, clothing worn by Macon and musical recordings.
“After I did extensive research for the book, my house was filled with Uncle Dave Macon materials. A lot of it our family collected. And our mother saved a lot,” said Doubler, noting several of the precious images saved by his mother.
Macon’s great-grandchildren came to the conclusion the family’s immense collection needed a home and it needed to be in Rutherford County. MTSU’s Center for Popular Music was a perfect fit, Doubler said.
“Then we felt we needed to make sure people looked at these materials and that gave us the idea to give money to support researchers. There are a lot of college researchers that don’t have a lot of money, Doubler said. “This is money well spent and really important to us as a family, as we are turning over to you our great-grandfather’s legacy in writing and photos and memorabilia.”
Uncle Dave Macon passed away in 1952 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, at the age of 81. His musical legacy has also been kept alive through the Uncle Dave Macon Days festival, which was held in Murfreesboro beginning in the late 1970s before relocating to Shelbyville in 2023 and partnering with the American Mule and Music Festival.
To learn more about the Center for Popular Music, visit https://www.mtsu.edu/popmusic/.
— Nancy DeGennaro (Nancy.DeGennaro@mtsu.edu)