As previously reported, Marty Godbey, a prolific writer about bluegrass music, passed away on 23 December, 2010. She died from complications after what was expected to be a routine surgical procedure and, in doing so, left an expansive void in our world that will never be filled.

Marty wrote about and photographed many bluegrass musicians, and her articles have appeared in Bluegrass Unlimited and Banjo Newsletter, among other publications. Remember that two page spread of photographs taken at Bean Blossom that appeared in Bluegrass Unlimited in the late 1960s? That was hers.

She composed the liner notes for Hang A Light Out For Me (Dave Evans) and Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Gospel, and with her husband, Frank, she earned a nomination for the 2008 IBMA award for the best Liner Notes, for Bluegrass Holiday, by J.D. Crowe.

One reviewer wrote of “his essay” when describing her liner notes to O Sister! The Women’s Bluegrass Collection. I bet that tickled Marty.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s she had published a series of restaurant guides, the product of her travels around the southern US, including Georgia, her home state. Dining in the Historic South: A Restaurant Guide With Recipes is a good representation of her writing about this subject.

Her writing has also appeared in The Kentucky Encyclopedia.

Independent film producer Russ Farmer shares his thoughts after working with Marty on two projects in recent years ….

“Getting to know someone is to spend time on the road with them. For the past four years I have spent considerable time on the road with Marty and Frank Godbey.

As I was beginning to produce the documentary, A Kentucky Treasure: The J.D. Crowe Story, and had mentioned to Marty what I was doing, she surmised correctly of course, it might be an aid to both of us if she and Frank helped with the project. Since she was writing a book on Crowe, she could do the interviews as I videotaped them. This way I would have the video and she would have quotes for her book from some of the foremost bluegrass pickers in the country and former members of J.D. Crowe’s bands.

Marty and Frank had traveled the country since the sixties, often on their own sometimes as representatives of Bluegrass Unlimited, photographing and writing about different bluegrass artists. J.D. Crowe was one of those. They had numerous photos of J.D. and the many configurations of his bands. Frank had even snapped a photograph of the exterior of bluegrass famous ‘Martin’s’ Tavern on N. Limestone in Lexington where J.D. performed with The Joslin Brothers as The Kentucky Mountain Boys, after his stint with Jimmy Martin.

Work on the book had taken a back seat to Marty’s health concerns for the preceding couple of years. A multiple by-pass surgery had further complicated Marty’s life, but by the time we were to start the interview process, Marty calculated she would be physically fit.

For that next six or eight months, Marty, Frank and I hit the road doing interviews with the likes of Tony Rice in Pigeon Forge, Ricky Skaggs in Nashville, Doyle Lawson in McKee, Kentucky. We waited all afternoon in the bowels of Rupp Arena in Lexington for an interview with Alison Krauss. Jerry Douglas is a friend of mine and the Godbey’s and kept us company the entire time. Jerry’s was one of the best interviews we did. Marty loved it.

It was immediately obvious Marty’s and my needs were going to be different. Marty would come with only a few questions she needed for her purposes and I had page after page of questions. I needed for artists to not only cover the time they were with Crowe but pretty much their own life. (It’s the insecurity of a TV producer to have more than what they need rather than less) Marty never complained although often didn’t like the questions or the way I asked them but she trudged through them anyway.

Marty and I shared the same dislike for the early mornings. Frank is more of an early bird person. Marty and I were both night owls and so I scheduled the interviews as late in the day as possible. Our days often turned into night and it made for long workdays. Marty, being the professional she was, kept up the pace. She wasn’t physically strong and it was often difficult for her, especially at the end of the day.

The Crowe documentary wrapped up a couple of year ago and since that time I have been working on another documentary. This one on The Osborne Brothers. Once again Marty, Frank and I teamed up and off we went. This time we did most of our interviews in Nashville with the likes of Terry Eldridge, Terry Smith, Eddie Stubbs, Bob and Sonny Osborne and many others. Marty wasn’t writing a book on the Osborne Brothers but she and Frank so love bluegrass music and the artists who perform it, they again volunteered to help.

Marty was constantly looking after me and making sure I had eaten or I had gotten enough rest; always after me to eat right and to take care of myself, she was like a sister that way. She often suggested doctors for my ailments, or remedy’s for my ills. Still sitting in my kitchen cupboard is a paraffin dip for my hands. She loaned it to me thinking it might help some pain I was having in my fingers.

Marty sent me a card for every occasion of my life. Birthdays, working too hard, Merry Christmas, and when Marty died there was a card on my coffee table of condolences of my Mom’s death just before Christmas. Marty was always concerned with the well being of others. Her interviews often turned emotional, as she would relate a story from her past, an incident that had happened or a story about someone who had touched her heart. She and Frank would go out of their way to help others and to make sure they had what they needed. Just ask some of the folks around Lexington about their generosity.

I had known Frank for many years as he and I were often at the same bluegrass jam sessions in Lexington and had played in one bluegrass band together but the road was where I got to know Marty. She was a gentle, loving, southern bell. She was smart, beautiful and a totally captivating human being. Marty Godbey was a great lady.  I can’t imagine, nor do I wish to know how Frank is feeling. He has lost his life long partner, traveling companion, consult, associate, lover and best friend. I don’t even want to know the hurt he is feeling.

I haven’t finished the editing process of The Osborne Brothers documentary yet which means for part of this winter I will be listening to Marty doing all those interviews again and again.

So, in a way, Marty, Frank and I will be hitting the road again.

God speed Marty Godbey. With all my love, I already miss you.”

Russ Farmer
Independent Producer
Lexington, KY

Chris Stuart, a writer, musician and song writer and a great admirer of Marty Godbey’s writing and conversation, said  ……

“It’s rare for someone to be graced with equal measures of humor and dignity as was Marty. I will miss her smile, her wit, and her unerring take on all things bluegrass. If there was a First Lady of bluegrass, she was it.”

Frank Gobey graciously contributed a few photographs to this remembrance of his beloved wife, and shared that she was never a fan of having her picture taken – prefering to be on the other side of the lens as Frank put it. But he said that this “two-fer” was a special favorite of hers, taken with George Shuffler at the Spring Lakes festival in 1968.

He also passed along a husband’s enduring tribute…

“Marty was the love of my life, my soul mate, my best friend and the other (better!) half of my being Life without her seems at present to be a long, dark shadow. I know she wills me strength to get through this, and in time I’m sure I’ll make it as each days seems better. But I’ll miss her always.

Marty was first and foremost a professional writer with interests that included bluegrass, but that also extended in many other directions as well. She wrote on a wide range of subjects for many publications, most of which I can’t recall off the top of my head, but she did a lot of work for a magazine here called Kentucky Living and also wrote several pieces for the Louisville Courier-Journal newspaper back in the 1970s/80s.”

A life well-lived, and a woman well-loved. Rest in peace, Marty Godbey.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.

  • Marty & Frank have touched my life since their work appeared for the 1st time in Bluegrass Unlimited. This year Russ Farmer contacted me for possible audio & photos for their Osborne Brothers project. I also saw their J.D. Crowe Story DVD and was blown away. I was further honored when Marty asked for one of my photos of J.D. for her book.

    Marty will be missed by a very large “family”, me included.