It is with such deep sadness that we share the news that Doc Watson has died. Doc died Tuesday night shortly after 7 p.m. at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem. He had been hospitalized last week after a fall at his home in Deep Gap. Though he hadn’t broken any bones, he was very ill; he underwent colon surgery and even seemed to rally a bit before passing on shortly after 7 p.m. EST. He was 89 years old.
Born and raised in Deep Gap, Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson had lost his eyesight to an infection while he was still an infant. He would eventually become one of the world’s most influential musicians, developing his own flatpicking style that influenced many future generations of guitarists in bluegrass, folk, and country music. In the International BluegrassMusic Association’s (IBMA) description of Doc’s achievements, the organization credits him with helping to establish the guitar as a lead instrument in bluegrass music.
A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, National Heritage Fellowship and eight Grammy Awards (including Lifetime Achievement), Doc Watson was a legendary performer who blended his traditional Appalachian musical roots with bluegrass, country, gospel, and blues to create a unique style and an expansive repertoire. When President Bill Clinton presented Doc with the Medal of Arts at a ceremony in 1997, he commented, “There may not be a serious, committed baby boomer alive who didn’t at some point in his or her youth try to spend a few minutes at least trying to learn to pick a guitar like Doc Watson.”
Doc and his wife Rosa Lee co-wrote a song titled “Your Long Journey,” which included the lyrics:
“God’s given us years of happiness here
Now we must part
And as the angels come and call for you
The pains of grief tug at my heart
Oh my darling
Oh my darling
My heart breaks as you take your long journey.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with Doc’s family and friends; this is a huge loss for them, for North Carolina, and for the entire music community.