A piece of central Missouri’s musical history is now on display at the Missouri State Museum in the State Capitol.
Lee Mace’s famous bass violin now resides in the Missouri State Museum.
For over 50 years, Mace was a household name in the Lake of the Ozarks. Mace and his wife, Joyce, were the founders of Lee Mace’s Ozark Opry, whose sign still stands along US 54 in Osage Beach.
The Ozark Opry showcased local talent and in its 53 years hosted approximately 10 million guests.
Mace grew up near Brumley and would travel with his family to a friend’s house for musical get-togethers.
According to Mace’s nephew, Dave Webb, Mace came from a musical family; his mother was an accomplished violinist. She taught him the basics and from there he taught himself and became known for playing the bass violin.
As a serviceman in the U.S. Army, Mace formed a band while stationed with the 28th General Hospital Unit in France awaiting deployment to Korea.
Webb said Mace was the designated bassist; however, there were no instruments to be found.
“He was walking around and saw a bass in a junkyard,” Webb said. “He drugged him and saw he had his neck broken, but he was a bass!”
Mace brought it home and one of his army buddies, who worked in his dad’s cabinet shop, thought he could fix it and just needed a baseball bat. Webb said Mace’s friend fixed it and if you look closely you can still see where the bass was fixed along with the bat. Mace went on to use the bass in several shows, both overseas and in the United States. Built in 1938, Mace’s instrument was a Key bass violin, one of less than 50 such instruments produced, according to a bass violin register.
The masses have been credited with preserving the traditions of the country of old with the advent of their Ozark Opry. What started in 1953 as a show or two weekly, has blossomed into shows six nights a week for over 30 years. The couple are credited with starting America’s first live nightly family show, a model that is still used by Branson’s entertainment industry.
In the offseason, they took their show on the road, at first with just two cars with the bass strapped to the top. They eventually made their way to a bus. Afterwards, Mace learned to fly and flew with two show members while the others boarded the bus.
In June 1985, he and a friend took off in a small experimental plane, but failed to return home. Both were killed when the plane crashed near Gravois Mills. Macé was 57 years old.
For years after Mace’s death, the bass sat unused, but was included onstage for the last Opry show, Webb said. As the show closed, the bass violin was given to Webb and put on display at his home. For a time he loaned it to be displayed at the Ozark Opry Museum in the old Opry building.
One day, Webb said he was browsing Facebook and saw a post featuring Missouri Trailblazers on the Missouri State Museum page. Coincidentally, Mace was one of the featured pioneers.
“I knew the bass needed to be on display for all to see,” Webb said. “I was put in touch with Tiffany Patterson from the Missouri State Museum, and she started helping us arrange for us to donate it.”
The bass was officially displayed on August 25, in front of a crowd of over 30 family members, friends and former Ozark Opry performers.
For those wishing to view the bass and other Trailblazer exhibits, they can visit the Missouri State Museum, located on the first floor of the State Capitol.