Florida Folklife Program
Folk Heritage Awards Recipient: Robert "Chubby" Russell Wise
Robert "Chubby" Russell Wise
Robert "Chubby" Russell Wise (1915 - 1996) - 1989 Florida Folk Heritage Award
Chubby Wise (Glen St. Mary) was considered one of the great fiddlers in country music. Born Robert Russell Wise in Lake City, his first musical experiences came from his father, whom he described as a “backwoods fiddler,” who taught him to play the banjo. By the time he was in his teens he had developed an interest in the fiddle and was influenced by two outstanding north Florida fiddlers, Bryan Purcell, state fiddle champion, and a local fiddler, Broward Green.
In the early 1930’s Wise moved to Jacksonville to play music for a living. Wise said it was during this time that he and two friends, Ervin and Gordon T. Rouse, penned the now-famous “Orange Blossom Special.” In 1939 he won the Florida state fiddling championship. During the 1940s, Wise joined Bill Monroe of the Grand Ole Opry and traveled with him and The Bluegrass Boys extensively throughout the southeast. It was during this time that Monroe began developing the bluegrass style known to millions of devoted fans. Wise played with such notables as Clyde Moody, Bill “Cousin Wilber” Westbrook, “Sally Ann” Forrester, Dave “Stringbean” Akerman, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Howard Watts “Cedric Rainwater,’ Mac Wiseman, Ruby Lyle, and Jack Thompson. In 1954 he joined Hank Snow's Rainbow Ranch Boys on the Opry, and remained with the band through 1970. Wise also performed at bluegrass festivals and recorded solo fiddle albums. He returned to Florida in 1984, where he continued to perform on occasion.