By Randy Johnson
Imagine—two iconic North Carolinians famed for their contributions to the arts—and for our countrymen’s appreciation of our state—have passed away so close to each other.
Doc died May 29. Andy died July 3.
After starting out in the mid-1940s in North Carolina’s first outdoor drama, The Lost Colony (2nd oldest in the United States), Andy Griffith went on to embody small town America in an enduring television classic that defied the tide of 1960s cynicism and ennui. You can’t believe the details of this man’s life (including his musical career), so I won’t dip my eyes from the big picture to do what you can do for yourself with a quick read of Andy’s Wikipedia bio.
At about the same time, Doc Watson was just emerging as a wunderkind embodiment of traditional Appalachian folk music and culture while the nation and the world were discovering American folk music. At the time, I was an elementary school student who loved Puff the Magic Dragon and Peter Paul and Mary. I do not know how I found my way to Doc’s first album, The Watson Family, released on the Smithsonian Folkways label in 1963, but I was listening to him in junior high and knew that Watauga County and the mountains of North Carolina were a place I wanted to experience.
Just the other day, I stopped on King Street to marvel at the people taking their pictures with Doc’s statue. I marveled at how surprised I still am to not have him gone so suddenly. I marveled at my luck in being able to hear him perform so often and even interview him over the years for articles I was writing. And I marveled at the respect of the people paying homage.
And now Andy Griffith is gone, too. As we parade this Fourth of July in our small mountain towns—places where both of these giants started their lives and stayed to live them out—let’s hope the values that they embodied endure. Let’s also hope that we continue to share the green, clean, traditional small town setting that positioned them for global prominence, and us for a lifestyle envied from afar by so many.