Donald Warthan, lifelong bluegrass performer and founder of the band, Heritage, died on October 10. He was 79 years of age.
Warthan lived his life in Charles City, VA, not far from Richmond where Heritage was based. The band developed a strong following after they were formed in 1986, specializing in what many call the DC bluegrass sound, based on the strong influence at that time of The Country Gentlemen and Seldom Scene. A strong focus on smooth, traditional bluegrass was their approach, highlighting harmony vocals and crisp arrangements.
Donald was initially the bass player with Heritage, though he switched to guitar in more recent years. During their hey day, the band included a number of notable Virginia musicians, like Ron Barnes, Steve Stevenson, Mike Sharp and Kevin Phillips. Through the ’80s and ’90s they regularly played 75-100 shows each year, traveling all over the US while also working full time jobs. For Warthan that was as a pressman with Reynolds Metals, where he stayed until he retired some years ago.
Heritage continues playing to this day, though with a reduced schedule, and Warthan was a member until he passed. The group released four independently-produced albums, all on their own HBG label, with Tim Austin and David Parmley doing the engineering and mixing. Donald had told other members of the group that he got the idea of creating their own label from Don Parmley of The Bluegrass Cardinals.
Donald will be remembered by fans for his lovely singing voice, and by regional pickers for his friendly welcome and his love of jamming. And for his jokes, which he always had at the ready.
A Celebration of Life service is scheduled for this Saturday, October 19, at 11:00 a.m. at Memorial United Methodist Church in Charles City, VA. Fellowship will follow the service.