Before The Star Was Born: The Legend of Lady Gaga’s Singing West Virginia Grandpa

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Our story of how Lady Gaga was inspired by her West Virginia grandmother to “pick yourself up” during a difficult time is the most-read post on this site — with over 30,000 views.

People in West Virginia are proud of the family, even if Gaga’s mother Cynthia Bissett left the region for New York City in the 1970s, part of a wave of emigration described in our movie Moundsville, available for $3.99 here. (If you enjoy these posts, please consider supporting us by renting or buying the film.)

With Gaga making news this week with her stunning display of fashion at the Met Gala, it’s a good time to pass on a story we heard from readers who wrote in after our first post.

This one’s not about Gaga’s grandmother, which has been told many times– but instead a lesser-known tale about her grandfather, a man named Paul Bissett, Sr. who was a legendary West Virginia amateur crooner in the 1960s, singing at weddings, birthdays and public events.

Gaga gets her golden voice from him, people in Moundsville and Glen Dale like to say.

A woman named Mary Butler emailed me to tell the charming story of Mr. Bissett singing at her wedding.

Not only was Paul Bissett a State Farm Agent, he was gifted with a beautiful voice.  He sang in the McMechen Methodist Choir, but also in the McMechen Mens Chorus.  The chorus was directed by Ray Ponzo, bass player in the Wheeling Symphony, band director at Union High School in Benwood and later for Shadyside High School.  The chorus sang at many events around the Ohio Valley.  Paul sang The Twelfth Of Never at my wedding.  My uncle, Earl Summers, Jr. played the violin, making it a very musical wedding.

Gaga grew up in New York City, but often visited her proud grandparents. Sometimes, they would take her to talent shows, another reader wrote.

When Mr. Bissett died in 2013, his obituary noted that he was a “a very well known singer throughout the [Ohio] valley.” Amazingly, it makes zero mention that he was the grandfather of possibly the most famous singer on the planet.

Among his survivors, the obituary mentioned “his loving wife of 63 years, Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Ferrie Bissett”, and four grandchildren, including a woman named Stefani Germanotta — also known as Lady Gaga.

John W. Miller

 

 

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