Arthel Lane Watson was born in a rural area of North Carolina in 1923, the sixth of nine children. An infection cost him his sight about the time of his first birthday. At that time and place, a disability, such as blindness, would be a handicap hard to overcome.
However, he did overcome his blindness. He became one of the most original musicians this country ever produced and changed the way guitar players approach playing the instrument.
And somewhere along the way, he picked up the name "Doc."
Doc Watson died last week at the age of 89 from complications following colon surgery. He died in the same area of the country where he was born and had lived all of his life, except for the occasions when he was on the road playing music for his adoring fans.
Watson's fame was that he transformed the acoustic guitar from a rhythm instrument into something completely different. With lightning-quick speed, delicate dexterity, and crystal-clear notation, he taught himself to play old-time fiddle tunes on his guitar - something that hadn't been accomplished before him. He was so talented and developed such a following for his playing, he was able to perform and record for decades, including almost up until the time of his death.
In 1997, President Bill Clinton presented Mr. Watson with the National Medal of Arts at the White House. "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," the president said during the ceremony.
However, as much he loved his music, it always seemed to be a means to an end for this humble man and not the end. As mentioned, he never left the area where he was born. He remained married to the same women he married in 1947, Rosa Lee Carlton, the daughter of a local fiddler.
North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue said in a statement following his death that "Over his long and brilliant career, Doc Watson traveled the world playing the music he loved, but his heart never strayed far from his home in Deep Gap, N.C. ... . Our state was fortunate to have such a worldwide ambassador of North Carolina's culture and heritage."
So was the rest of America.
Because of his virtuosity with the guitar, Doc Watson will be remembered for inspiring musicians worldwide for more than 50 years. He also should be remembered as someone who did not let a disability keep him from reaching his potential both as a musician and as a human being.