Lady Gaga’s stunning national anthem performance, and gold brooch of a peace dove, at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration drew another round of reminders that her mom grew up in Glen Dale, WV. That’s near Wheeling, and the twin town of Moundville, the subject of Moundsville, our PBS biography of a classic American town.
Sen. Joe Manchin led the charge, grabbing a selfie of Gaga and chatting about her West Virginia roots.
People in West Virginia are still proud of the family, even if Gaga’s mother Cynthia Bissett decamped the region for New York City in the 1970s, part of a wave of emigration described in our film. And Gaga herself has spoken of her roots in the region, including during a campaign stop in Pittsburgh the day before the election.
Gaga has made frequent trips to visit her grandmother in West Virginia. A lesser-known tale concerns 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. As a child, she 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.”
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