Folk music legend Doc Watson died today at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C., where he was listed in critical condition last week after a fall in his home, WFMY-TV in North Carolina reports. He was 89 years old.
Watson rose to prominence with the ’60s folk movement with his often-emulated flat-picking technique on the acoustic guitar. His recordings kept vintage country songs alive for new generations of folk and bluegrass fans, too.
Watson was born March 2, 1923 in Deep Gap, N.C. Blinded by illness before he turned 1 year old, he nevertheless began playing guitar, banjo and harmonica as a child.
After leaving the School of the Blind in Raleigh, N.C., Watson joined a local dance band. In 1960, he met Smithsonian Institute folklorist Ralph Rinzler while playing guitar with old-time recording artist Clarence “Tom” Ashley. Rinzler booked Ashley’s band in New York City and Los Angeles, and Watson took over for an ill Ashley. Watson then booked solo gigs and started occasional collaborations with bluegrass forefather Bill Monroe.
After recording a 1967 album with bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs, Watson appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s seminal 1972 album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” along with the likes of Roy Acuff and Maybelle Carter of The Carter Family. The appearance exposed Watson to a broader audience.
Multiple Grammy wins led to Watson receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. He was inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 2000 and received the National Medal of Arts in 1997.
Watson’s son Merle played with him until his death in 1985 in a tractor accident on his North Carolina farm. Watson honored his son by founding the long-running Merlefest music festival in North Carolina.