Photo: Douglas Mason/Getty Images
Doc Watson, 1923–2012
Seven-time GRAMMY-winning American roots pioneer Doc Watson died May 29 in Winston-Salem, N.C. Though a cause of death has not been revealed, Watson had undergone colon surgery last week. He was 89. A guitarist renowned for his unique flat-picking and fingerpicking guitar styles, Watson began to gain national notoriety following appearances at the Newport Folk Festival in Rhode Island in 1963 and 1964. A versatile artist, Watson incorporated elements of American roots music, traditional country, traditional folk, traditional bluegrass, and gospel in his music. He won his first GRAMMY in 1973 for Best Ethnic Or Traditional Recording (Including Traditional Blues) for Then And Now, an album that featured Watson's son, guitarist Merle Watson. Watson would go on to win GRAMMYs in each of the three following decades, including wins for albums such as Riding The Midnight Train (1986), On Praying Ground (1990) and Legacy (2002). Two of Watson's albums crossed over to the Billboard 200, with 2003's GRAMMY-nominated The Three Pickers, featuring Watson, Earl Scruggs and Ricky Skaggs, peaking at No. 179.
In 1997 Watson was awarded the National Medal of Arts at the White House. In 2004 Watson was honored with The Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award for creative contributions of outstanding artistic significance to the field of recording. He won his most recent GRAMMY for Best Country Instrumental Performance with fellow guitarist Bryan Sutton for "Whiskey Before Breakfast" in 2006.
"Doc Watson was a singer, songwriter and guitar player known for his masterful skills as a musician and his beautiful, emotion-filled voice," said Recording Academy President/CEO Neil Portnow. "Watson’s immense talent and spirit will be deeply missed, and our sincerest sympathies go out to his family, friends and all who were inspired by his music."