Doc Watson, 1923-2012

Guild is saddened to learn of the May 29 passing of the great Doc Watson, 89.

A beloved and widely influential figure in the bluegrass, blues, country, folk and gospel acoustic guitar world, Watson perhaps more than any other artist brought traditional Appalachian mountain music to a worldwide audience with peerless flat-picking and finger-style guitar work, and his warm baritone singing. Over the course of a remarkably prolific and acclaimed career, Watson recorded more than 50 albums, earned seven Grammy awards, received a National Medal of Arts (1997) and a Recording Academy lifetime achievement award (2004).

Born Arthel Lane Watson on March 3, 1923, in Deep Gap, N.C., he was struck blind at age 1 by an untreated eye infection. He developed a love of and talent for playing music during boyhood and received his first guitar at age 13.

Watson’s nimble and eclectic musical abilities fueled a career that started in earnest relatively late; he was in his late 30s and early 40s when his music was first brought to a national audience during the folk boom of the early 1960s. His career proceeded nearly uninterrupted after that, darkened only by the death of his son, Merle, with whom he often performed, in a 1985 tractor accident. Watson eventually returned to live performance, and he organized MerleFest in 1988; an annual event in North Carolina that has flourished as a major U.S. folk festival.

Watson is survived by his wife of 66 years, Rosa Lee; a daughter, Nancy Ellen; two grandchildren and several great-grandchildren; and a brother, David.