Doyle Lawson receives 2021 Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award

Bluegrass artist and bandleader Doyle Lawson has been named as a recipient of the Distinguished Artist Award from the Tennessee Arts Commission as part of the 2021 Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award, the state’s highest honor in the arts. They have been given since 1971 to artists who have made outstanding contributions to the state’s cultural life. 

Governor Bill Lee and First Lady Maria Lee present these Arts Awards jointly, and the Governor says that it is an honor to acknowledge such special artists each year.

“Tennessee has a rich artistic heritage, and we are proud of these outstanding recipients who are leaders in the arts across our state. Maria and I congratulate each of them, and we are proud of their accomplishments.”

The Governor’s Arts Awards are conferred in three categories: Arts Leadership Awards, Distinguished Artist Awards, and Folklife Heritage Awards. Also receiving Distinguished Artist Awards in 2021 are Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, and Carla Thomas.

When we caught up with Doyle yesterday, he told us that this award caught him completely unawares.

“I was really, really taken by surprise – totally by surprise. I was in the studio working with Donna Ulisse, and Mary called and said I need to call this number. I asked who it was, and she said just call them. When I talked to the Arts Commission I was speechless. To be chosen by the Governor of my home state of Tennessee as a Distinguished Artist is an overwhelming honor. I’m so thankful.

I just wanted to be in a bluegrass band playing music. I never thought in 100 years that my path would go the way it has. I’m just a blessed man.

When I set out on my musical journey there wasn’t any thought of the accolades that have come my way. It’s always been me trying to play the music that I love, and trying to present in my way. To have my home state recognize my efforts like this is quite the honor. I couldn’t be happier, and I thank God for all the blessings I receive. It’s through Him that I’m able to do what I do.”

Doyle was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2006, and was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2012. He has been playing bluegrass professionally going on 60 years, starting with his first gig on banjo with Jimmy Martin in 1963. From there he worked with J.D. Crowe and The Country Gentlemen before launching his own group, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, in 1979, where he has remained as leader of that band ever since.

Lawson has announced that 2022 will be his final year of touring full time with Quicksilver. While he is retiring from the road life, he says that he will remain active in music, but on his own schedule. At 77 years of age, 58 of which have been given over to performing, Doyle Lawson has certainly earned the right to work when he feels called to do so.

Congratulations, Doyle, on this latest honor!

A complete list of 2021 Tennessee Governor’s Arts Award recipients follows:

Arts Leadership Award

  • Birthplace of Country Music, Bristol
  • Frank Bluestein, Germantown
  • Borderless Arts, Gallatin
  • HoLa Hora Latina, Knoxville
  • Debbie Litch, Memphis

Distinguished Artist Award

  • Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Nashville
  • Doyle Lawson, Kingsport
  • Carla Thomas, Memphis

Folklife Heritage Award

  • Ludie Amos, Clarksville
  • Dr. Robert (Roby) Cogswell, Nashville
  • National Rolley Hole Marbles Championship and Festival, Hilham
  • Richard Turner, Stanton

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.