By Sherrie Norris
Watauga County’s own Eddy Merle Watson, late great musician and two-time Grammy award winner, was one of five inductees named to the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 17.
It was a time to remember, Watson’s family told High Country Press, after their loved one was honored posthumously during the red-carpet ceremony at the historic Gem Theatre in Kannapolis.
Watson’s daughter, Karen Watson Norris, her children, Channing Norris, Chelsea Kilgore and Sarah Beth Norris accepted the honor on Watson’s behalf.
Karen Watson Norris said, “We are extremely pleased that my dad is being honored in this manner. It really means a lot to us, especially to know that even after all these years following his tragic death, that people still love his music — that it is still being heard and shared — and that it still has such deep meaning to so many people. We are very honored to be able to accept this award in his honor and memory. It would mean so much to him, also, to know that his contribution to music in North Carolina and beyond has not been forgotten.”
On stage during the ceremony for the acceptance speech with his family, Channing Norris shared, “Sadly, I didn’t get to meet my grandfather since he passed away when my mother, Karen, was just 17 years old. Fortunately, I can say that I have always felt his presence through his music and through the positive impact he has made on my community. Merle’s father, Doc, developed a unique style of music where Merle blended in his own touch to that style. Doc, Merle, and Richard (father, son and grandson) shared this unique style. It was their own. A blend of folk, old time mountain music, bluegrass, blues and gospel. On behalf of my grandfather and the rest of the Watson family, we would like to express our deepest gratitude for this honorable induction of Merle Watson into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Congratulations to all of the inductees here tonight and thank you to all of the staff of the organization for all of their dedication and hard work. My family and I are so thankful to be a part of this great event.”
Merle Watson, whose life ended tragically in 1985, was the son of the legendary Doc and Rosalee Watson, both having passed away within months of each other in 2012.
Doc Watson will always be remembered as one of America’s most renowned and influential guitarists. Merle’s son, Richard, also making a name for himself in the music world, and often touring with his father and grandfather, passed away unexpectedly in 2015.
Norris, along with her children, grandchildren, her aunt, Nancy Watson, and Richard’s daughter, Candis Webb, are left to carry on the family legacy, and are very proud to do so.
The video honoring Merle Watson during the ceremony last week described him as one of those musicians who preferred to take the background role, rather than the spotlight, and with numerous photos, included the following highlights of his life:
- He was born February 8, 1949 in Deep Gap to Doc and Rosalie Carlton Watson and was named for his father’s two favorite singers —Eddie Arnold and Merle Travis.
- After Doc discovered that his son had taught himself to play guitar, Merle became Doc’s second guitarist in 1965 at age 17; the two alternated between the lead and rhythm roles in their performances.
- “Doc Watson and Son” was the first of 12 albums they recorded together.
- The father-son duo was nominated and won several Grammy awards, including Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording in 1973 with “Then and Now,” and in 1979 with “Big Sandy Leather Britches” winning Best Instrumental Performance.
- In 1985, Merle was named Best Finger Picking Guitarist by Frets Magazine.
- Merle died October 23, 1985 at the age of 36.
- In 1988, Doc founded Merlefest in his son’s memory, now recognized as one of the nation’s leading folk music festival.
- The film, “Doc and Merle,” documenting their career, was released in 1996.
- Merle Watson remains a powerful influence in many forms of acoustic music today, including blues, country and bluegrass
In addition to Watson, the Hall of Fame inductees included:
- Elizabeth Cotten – Grammy Award winning blues and folk musician born in Carrboro.
- 9th Wonder – Hip-Hop producer, record executive, rapper and lecturer born in Winston-Salem.
- Mitch Easter – producer, musician, and songwriter born in Winston-Salem.
- Big Daddy Kane – Grammy Award winning Hip-Hop recording artist and actor from Raleigh.
Event hosts included Kristen Miranda and Cheryl Brayboy of WBTV News 3 Charlotte and was open to the public. It included a VIP Cocktail Reception prior to the event and an after-party for inductees, their families and VIP ticket holders.
At the after-party at the Hall of Fame Museum, the inductee exhibits were unveiled to the general public for the first time.
“The NC Music Hall of Fame is so very honored to now have Merle Watson as a member of our Hall,” said Veronica Cordle, Executive Director of the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. “Merle being alongside his father, Doc Watson, is only fitting since they both have influenced the sound of country, folk and bluegrass music, not only here in NC, but around the world. Merle’s influence on a generation evolved into the creation of MerleFest which is one of the most popular music festivals featuring the style of music that Merle was known for.”
Cordle added, “It means a lot to the NC Music Hall of Fame that Merle’s family was here to commemorate his induction on Thursday night. The N.C. Hall of Fame will continue to tell the music history of Merle for many years to come and have visitors from all over the world view his exhibit to learn a little more about him.”
Cordle and her staff shared that the annual induction ceremony is a commemorative occasion in which those in the music industry who have made an impact on American Music, are introduced as new members of the Hall of Fame. Inductees are those who have roots in North Carolina and have reached national recognition in their field of at least 10 years. The ceremony included not only an awards show, but also included an insightful history of their careers and performances by some of the inductees.
Performing live at this year’s ceremony included: Mitch Easter, Kellie Pickler, David Holt, Shirley Caesar, Elizabeth Cotten’s family and the Carolina Panthers PurrCussion.
The 2019 inductees were announced earlier this year during a press conference at the Kannapolis location by NC Music Hall of Fame by Cordle and Susi Hamilton, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, in partnership with ‘Come Hear NC,’ which coincides with Gov. Roy Cooper’s proclamation naming 2019 as the “Year of Music” in the state of North Carolina.
“Come Hear North Carolina,” is the relatively new comprehensive campaign from the NC Arts Council and The NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to celebrate the many musicians, songwriters studios, venues, instrument makers, labels, record stores, promoters, places, listeners and communities who create, support and sustain music in and across our great state.
Through the partnership, the 2019 Induction Ceremony was filmed by the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources for livestream to showcase the inductees’ live performances.
The NC Music Hall of Fame is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. Its museum, located at 600 Dale Earnhardt Blvd. in Kannapolis, is open to the public Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
For more information, visit the NCMHOF website: at NorthCarolinaMusicHallofFame.org or call 704) 934-2320.
Photos by Edward Wright and Daniel Coston, provided to High Country Press by the NC Music Hall of Fame.