Bass fiddle of Lee Mace, “Grandfather of Country Music in Missouri,” is being displayed at the Missouri State Capitol Museum.
“Honoring my uncle Lee Mace, music trailblazer, the instrument will be at the Missouri statehouse,” said Dave Webb, Stillwell, Kansas.
“Opening ceremonies in Jefferson City, Missouri, are Thursday, Aug. 25, at 1 o’clock, with the public invited,” Webb welcomed.
The Key bass fiddle, one of less than 50 such instruments, was constructed in 1938, bass fiddle registry indicates.
Whereabouts of the bass fiddle from 1938 to 1951 are unknown. However, Lee Mace was stationed in France, awaiting deployment to Korea, when he saw the bass fiddle in a dump. It had a broken neck and needed repairs.
Mace’s Army buddy, Jim, from working in his father’s cabinet shop at Stafford, Kansas, indicated he could repair the instrument.
“Lee found a baseball bat and his friend fashioned a new neck for the bass fiddle and made additional repairs,” Webb said.
Lee Mace had grown up in a musical home and his mother was an accomplished fiddle player. She taught him how to note the fiddle and the basics of music.
Transferring those early music lessons to the bass fiddle, Lee Mace soon formed a band doing USO shows.
One such show for the GI’s as noted in a letter home had attendance of more than 5,000. It was the only band called back for encores.
Upon discharge from the Army, Mace brought the bass fiddle home with him to Missouri.
Lee Mace was born in a small town of 74 people on a farm near Brumley, Missouri, just 10 miles from the Lake of the Ozarks.
“As a youngster, Lee remembered going with his family to a friend’s home for musical get togethers,” Webb said. “Everyone picked, sang, and had a grand time.”
Lee Mace and his wife Joyce were among the first Grand Ole Opry square dancers traveling from coast-to-coast dancing.
“In 1953, they stopped living out of suitcases and settled down at the Lake of the Ozarks,” Webb said. “They knew that there was a lot of old-time country traditions and flavor that they wanted to preserve.”
The musical couple started the Ozark Opry renting a building near the Bagnell Dam.
“It would hold around 200 guests if some brought their own chairs,” Webb said. “They got several entertainers from nearby to also perform and began putting on shows two nights a week. Soon, it was up to three shows a week, and later four.
“Lee and Joyce Mace are actually credited with starting the first live nightly family show in America. Today we call that the popular Branson-style entertainment,” according to Webb.
In 1957, the Maces built a new Ozark Opry auditorium that grew to 1,100 seating capacity. Show season ran from mid-April to mid-October.
The Ozark Opry was also on KRCG and KMOS television in a half-hour show every Thursday evening, “It ranked fourth in the Nielson ratings around the Columbia, Missouri, area,” Webb said.
Lee Mace was killed in a plane crash in 1985, but his wife Joyce continued the show for more than 20 years.
“The bass fiddle was used on the first shows and was on stage for the final show,” Webb pointed out.
At the time of the show’s closer, the bass fiddle was gifted to Dave Webb and displayed in his home. For a while, it was on loan for display at the Ozark Opry Museum in the old Opry building.
“We have donated this ‘famous’ bass fiddle to the Missouri State Capitol Museum so everybody can see it,” Webb said.
Lee Mace’s trademark was playing a ‘rousing, slapping, free-wheeling bass fiddle’ at his Ozark Opry.
Lee and Joyce Mace hosted the Ozark Opry with four nightly shows a week.