Max Mace, a singer and conductor, founded the Heritage Singers, a pioneering self-supporting gospel music ensemble. Now the longest running group of its type, it has flourished for nearly four decades. It has traveled to more than sixty countries, performed in every state in the U.S., released over 100 recordings, and inspired the formation internationally of numerous similar singing groups and other self-supporting music ministries.
Mace's work with the Heritage Singers was a natural outgrowth of a love for music that started while he was a child growing up in a musical family in a farming community in Eagleton, Idaho, near Boise. From his earliest years, he sang in a trio with his two brothers and later in male quartets while at Gem State Academy and Walla Walla College, now University.
While at WWC, he met and dated Lucy Hatley, a musically talented student at nearby Walla Walla College Academy, now Walla Walla Valley Academy. They married in January 1958, following her graduation from the academy in 1957.
It was while Mace was working at United Medical Labs in Portland, Oregon, and leading the Rose City Singers, a group sponsored by the company, that the idea for the Heritage Singers developed. After conducting and singing in the group for four years and observing the effect its music had on its audiences, particularly the young, Max and Lucy, also an employee, decided to launch a full-time performing group.
Although this decision cost them their jobs, by June 1971 they had formed a group of eight singers and accompanying instrumentalists, chosen a name, scheduled a tour, and started to travel. While there were challenges then and in later years, they succeeded beyond their wildest expectations.
By the end of their second year, it had become obvious that the organization needed a base from which it could operate. The Maces, who had been renting when the group started, were staying in friends' homes or in motels between tours and operating out of their business manager's garage.
In 1973, they and their business manager found and purchased a large acreage, previously a cattle ranch in Placerville, California. Construction of an 11,000 square foot lodge was started in 1973 that included a rehearsal area, offices, nine bedrooms with shared baths, and two one-bedroom apartments for Max and Lucy and the business manager and his wife. A recording studio was added later.
Although the facility, which has become known as "The Ranch," was not finished by Christmas 1974, the Maces, tired of sleeping in motels, moved into their apartment, which had just been sheetrocked to provide privacy, for the holiday.
Members of the group, wanting to be the first to also sleep at "The Ranch," joined them, even though it meant they had to sleep in their sleeping bags on the first floor, which was totally open and strewn about with building materials. Five years after the purchase of the land, when the business manager and the Maces dissolved their business relationship, the Maces retained the facility and 35 acres.
In time, the Mace family, including their two children, Val and Greg, and their spouses all became participants in an experience that enabled large numbers of young people to sing while providing a Christian witness that has touched the lives of countless listeners.
Sources: Interviews with Max Mace, July 2009, and Lucy Hatley Mace, June and July 2009 and October 2010; Heritage Singers website biography.