Biographical Information

Photo of Doc Watson at age 16 with one of his first guitars.
Doc Watson at age 16 with
one of his first guitars.
(Photo courtesy of David Holt)

We are pleased to offer several biographical resources on Doc Watson here at Doc's Guitar:

  • For a quick overview, check out the Key Dates list below.
  • If you'd like to read a detailed biography of Doc, we have one of the best, written by Dan Miller.
  • Another good resource is the Merlfest biography page on Doc.
  • For an intimate and unique family view of Doc's life and heritage see the Milestones project below.
  • For a fascinating oral history of Doc in his own words, check out the Legacy CD (see below).
  • Read a review of Blind But Now I See, an unauthorized biography of Doc published in 2010.

A Biography of Doc Watson - by Dan Miller

Read Biography

One of the most comprehensive biographies of Doc Watson was written by Dan Miller of Flatpicking Guitar Magazine. It appeared in the September-October 1998 issue of the magazine (which focused on Doc Watson), and also as an introduction to the instruction book "Legacy of Doc Watson" by Steve Kaufman (Mel Bay Publications). We are pleased to offer this complete biography here at Doc's Guitar in Adobe Acrobat format. To view it, you'll need the Acrobat Reader plug-in for your browser.

MilestonesThe Doc Watson Milestones Project

The Milestones project offers a unique and intimate view of Doc Watson's life. The project was produced by Nancy Watson, Doc Watson's daughter and over a decade in the making before its releas in 2013. It is the story of the Watson family – a story told in song, narrative and photograph. The project features 94 previously unreleased tracks and 600 family photos arranged into 50 collages created by Nancy. It is a collection that was created entirely from within the family, with input from Doc himself. This is truly a remarkable project that brings you inside the Watson family and the traditions that shaped Doc's music.
To learn more, and to purchase Milestones, click here.


LegacyLegacy is a 3-CD set in which Doc talks about his life - and music. David Holt interviews Doc on the first two CDs and joins with Doc for a concert on the third disc. The conversation between Doc and David is like they are sitting right in your living room - you feel like you're right there with them. This is the closest thing to an audio biography of Doc that you will find, and the concert on the third disc is just icing on the cake. If you're a serious Doc Watson fan, Legacy is a must-have addition to your collection. Legacy track listing and ordering information

Key Dates

1923 Arthel Lane "Doc" Watson born in Stoney Fork Township, near Deep Gap, North Carolina, on March 3, 1923
1947 Doc marries Rosa Lee Carlton
1949 Son Eddy Merle Watson born (Named after Eddy Arnold and Merle Travis)
1951 Daughter Nancy Ellen Watson born
1953 Doc gets a job playing electric lead guitar in Jack Williams’ country and western swing band
1960 Doc is "discovered" when Ralph Rinzler meets him while in North Carolina to record Clarence "Tom" Ashley
1961 Doc, Gaither Carlton, Tom Ashley, Fred Price, and Clint Howard travel to New York to perform a concert sponsored by Friends of Old Time Music
1962 Doc's first solo appearance, at Gerde's Folk City
1964 Merle starts learning the guitar; in June he plays backup guitar for Doc at the Berkeley Folk Festival
1973 Doc receives his first Grammy award. This is followed by five more Grammys over the years
1985 Merle Watson dies tragically in a tractor accident on the night of October 23rd
1988 Doc is awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts
1988 The first Merlefest is held in remembrance of Merle Watson
1997 Doc receives the the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton
2004 Doc is awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences at their 2004 Grammy Awards show
2012 Doc passes away on May 29 at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC following abdominal surgery. Doc's wife Rosa Lee passes away six months later on November 22.