WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - Grammy-winning U.S. guitarist and folk singer Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson died on Tuesday in a North Carolina hospital at age 89, his management company said.
Watson died at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, following abdominal surgery last week, Folklore Productions International said in a statement.
“Doc 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,” the statement said. “He was a powerful singer and a tremendously influential picker who virtually invented the art of playing mountain fiddle tunes on the flattop guitar.”
Watson, who was blinded before his first birthday, won seven Grammy Awards, in addition to the Grammy for lifetime achievement he received in 2004. In 2006 he won in the category of best country instrumental performance for his playing on “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”
Watson was born on March 3, 1923, in Deep Gap, North Carolina, to a banjo-playing father, General Watson, and a mother who sang traditional secular and religious songs, Annie Watson.
Blinded by an eye infection as a toddler, he learned to play the banjo first, then taught himself the chords to “When the Roses Bloom in Dixieland” on a borrowed guitar at age 13, his managers said.
He picked up some chords from a fellow student at the Raleigh School for the Blind and began to incorporate music he heard on the radio with familiar Appalachian melodies.
Watson became a full-time professional musician in the 1960s and played everywhere from folk festivals to Carnegie Hall.
For much of his career, he toured and recorded with his son, Merle Watson, who died in a tractor accident in 1985. Doc Watson’s most popular recordings include the songs “Tom Dooley,” “Shady Grove” and “Rising Sun Blues.”
“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,” President Bill Clinton said when he awarded Watson the National Medal of the Arts in 1997.
Watson is survived by his wife, Rosa Lee Carlton Watson, and their daughter Nancy Ellen, his grandchildren Richard Watson and Karen Watson Norris, several great-grandchildren, and his brother David Watson.
Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao