Hear the legendary flatpicker and singer of traditional folk Doc Watson recorded live in concert from Alexandria, Va.'s Birchmere Music Hall. Watson was joined by banjo player David Holt and Doc's grandson, Richard Watson. Their performance originally webcast live on NPR.org Jan. 27.
Now 84, Doc Watson remains one of the most influential folk artists of all time, with a soulful, authentic voice and a remarkable guitar-picking style rarely heard in music today. Watson is one of the last in a generation of folk, bluegrass, and old-time musicians that included Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, and Clarence Ashley, and continues to perform a handful of concerts each year.
Watson enjoyed success in his musical career relatively late. He was in his 30s when he got his first paying gig as a musician, and in his 40s before he reached a large audience. That was during the folk revival of the late 1950s and early '60s. He's since been honored with six Grammys, a National Medal of Arts, National Heritage Fellowship, and a lifetime achievement award from the Recording Academy.
Doc Watson was born Arthel Watson in Deep Gap, N.C., in 1923. An eye infection left him blind at an early age, but he worked hard, teaching himself to play banjo and guitar. He later attended the Raleigh School for the Blind, where he picked up more chords and songs from other students.
In 1953, Watson joined Jack Williams' rockabilly/swing band and started playing shows. In 1960, Watson was discovered by folklorists Ralph Rinzler and Eugene Earle, which led to his first album Old-Time Music at Clarence Ashley's, as well as invitations to play in New York and the Newport Folk Festival. Later recordings with artists such as Flatt & Scruggs, Chet Atkins, Ricky Skaggs, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band helped solidify Watson's place among the greatest folk and country artists of all time.
Watson is joined on this performance by Grammy Award winning banjoist David Holt. He's released numerous recordings in his lifelong dedication to preserving traditional American music and stories. He's also the host of the North Carolina Public Television series Folkways.
Richard Watson offers backup on guitar for the performance. He's the son of Merle Watson, Doc Watson's son. Doc and Merle performed together for more than 15 years, until Merle's tragic death on the family farm in 1985.