Musician Doc Watson dies at 89

May 29, 2012 at 9:02 PM
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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., May 29 (UPI) -- Singer-guitarist Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson, an influential figure in American roots music, died Tuesday in Winston-Salem, N.C., his publicist said. He was 89.

Watson -- a recipient of the National Medal of Arts, a National Heritage Fellowship, and eight Grammy Awards -- died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center following a fall at his home and complications from colon surgery last week, Mitch Greenhill said in a posting on his Web site, Folklore Productions International.

Watson was born March 3, 1923, into a musical family in Deep Gap. N.C. His mother Annie Watson was a singer and his father General Watson played the banjo. Doc Watson, who was blind from birth, played banjo initially but picked up the guitar at age 13.

He married Rosa Lee Carlton in 1947 and they had two children, Eddy Merle and Nancy Ellen. Eddy Merle, who went by Merle Watson in his own musical career, was killed in 1985 in a tractor accident.

Doc Watson's professional career began in 1953, when he began a seven-year stint with pianist Jack Williams' rockabilly-swing band.

Folklorists Ralph Rinzler and Eugene Earle heard Watson in 1960 while they were visiting the U.S. South to research the growing popularity of folk music and by 1962, Watson was performing solo in New York's Greenwich Village.

He recorded his first solo album in 1964, represented by Folklore Productions, a business relationship that endured until his death Tuesday.

Watson and his son Merle began touring together in the late '60s. Doc Watson stopped touring for a time after his son's death.

Rinzler once wrote that Watson was "single-handedly responsible for the extraordinary increase in acoustic flat-picking and finger-picking performance," USA Today reported.

"His flat-picking style has no precedent in early country music history," Rinzler said.

In addition to his seven Grammy awards for blues and folk categories, Watson received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004.

Besides his wife, Watson is survived by their daughter Nancy Ellen, his grandchildren Richard Watson and Karen Watson Norris, several great-grandchildren and his brother David Watson, Folklore Productions said.

Private funeral arrangements were pending.

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