Renowned bluegrass guitarist and vocalist Tony Rice died Christmas morning at his home in Reidsville, North Carolina. He was 69.
“Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this life and made his swift journey to his heavenly home,” read a Facebook statement by Ricky Skaggs, Rice’s longtime collaborator and friend, on behalf of Rice’s family. No cause of death was given.
“Rest In Peace dear brother,” concluded Skaggs, adding: “Thank you for your great talent and the music that will continue to inspire more and more generations to come.”
Rice was best known for his mastery of flatpicking on the acoustic guitar as well as his vocal prowess. At the age of 20, he joined JD Crowe’s bluegrass band, the New South, and released his debut solo album Guitar in 1973. He moved on to more fruitful partnerships with the David Grisman Quintet, Norman Blake as well as Skaggs whom he had first met in the New South.
Eventually, these explorations culminated in his own project, the Tony Rice Unit, with which he produced some of his most cutting-edge work including the landmark 1979 album Manzanita and 1980’s Mar West—later reissued as Devlin—which fused elements of folk and jazz with bluegrass traditions to create a new sound he termed “spacegrass.”
In the mid-’90s, Rice was diagnosed with dysphonia, a condition affecting his vocal cords, and was forced to retire permanently from singing. Arthritis and elbow issues later restricted his guitar playing as well, and he gave his final public guitar performance at his 2013 induction into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.
Read tributes to Rice from admirers and fellow musicians below:
We’re gonna miss you Tony Rice. Never equaled…
— Béla Fleck (@belafleckbanjo) December 26, 2020
Tony Rice was the king of the flatpicked flattop guitar. His influence cannot possibly be overstated. If you aren’t familiar with his music, please look it up. I don’t know if a person can make anything more beautiful. #RIPTonyRice
— Jason Isbell (@JasonIsbell) December 27, 2020
Aw, Tony Rice. A name I’ve known my whole life. A great musician. https://t.co/33lBEgZiPU
— Steve Martin (@SteveMartinToGo) December 27, 2020
Tony Rice inspired so many including a kid like me from East Tennessee who was in awe of the way he sang and played Me And My Guitar. I’ll never forget seeing him sing that at the IBMA Bluegrass Festival in Owensboro, Ky. It’s printed in my brain forever! Rest In Peace Tony Rice. pic.twitter.com/AZPGZpyCMN
— Kenny Chesney (@kennychesney) December 27, 2020
Listen to some of his most iconic albums below: