Doc Watson – American Folk Music Legend Of North Carolina

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Doc Watson playing guitar
Doc Watson playing guitar. Were you lucky enough to hear him play live?
Photo credit: Eric Frommer via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Making of a Music Legend

Born on March 3, 1923, in Deep Gap, North Carolina, Doc did not let the fact that he was blind nearly since his birth stop him from performing mountain music across the region. The folk music resurgence of the 1960’s brought him a national audience, especially when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band featured him in their tribute to traditional country root music, “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”.1

Doc Watson (3 March 1923 – 29 May 2012)

American folk music legend Arthel Lane “Doc” Watson died Tuesday, May 29, 2012, at age 89 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, after a fall at his home in Blowing Rock, NC following colon surgery. Doc is remembered in the music community across the nation and especially here in North Carolina.

Honors & Awards

Doc Watson sculpture in Boone, NC
The icon Doc Watson sculpture in Boone, NC. Do you know where it is?

He was regarded for both his fingerpicking and especially his flat-picking style of guitar playing and could also play the banjo and harmonica. He won many music awards over the course of his career, including seven Grammys, as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.2 Other awards include the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award, induction into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor, an honorary music degree from Berklee College of Music, and he received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton.2 3

Doc’s Son Merle Was Another Great Talent

Doc had primarily toured with his son, Merle Watson, also an accomplished acoustic musician, who died tragically in an accident on the family farm in 1985.4 The very next year Doc began hosting MerleFest, an annual acoustic, Americana music festival held in Merle’s memory in Wilkesboro, NC. It is one of the most popular bluegrass music festivals in the world, with over 70,000 fans in attendance each year.5 In later years, Doc toured with his grandson Richard (Merle’s son).

Doc Watson’s Music Legacy

Doc left a broad musical legacy of American folk music, country, blues, gospel and bluegrass. With songs like “Rising Sun Blues,” (a.k.a. “House of the Rising Sun”), “Tennessee Stud”, and “Down in the Valley to Pray”, “Alberta”, “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues” and too many more favorites to list, his gift of music will continue to bless music fans for generations.


If you want to honor Doc’s legacy and hear the music he gave birth to, there’s no better place to do it than Merlefest, on the Doc & Merle Watson stage.


  1. “Doc Watson Biography”. Wilkes Community College. 2005.
  2. Hayes, Rob. “Doc Watson Receives Honorary Doctorate”.
  3. Lifetime Honors: National Medal of Art. National Endowment for the Arts.
  4. Havighust, Craig (June 2003). “Living Legacy”. Acoustic Guitar magazine.
  5. Mansfield, Brian (30 May 2012). “Doc Watson, Folk Music Legend, Dies at 89.” USA Today.
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