The North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in Kannapolis, NC has announced today its 2021 class, which finds legendary bluegrass guitarist and vocalist Tony Rice among the inductees.
The bluegrass and acoustic music world literally stood still when the news broke that Tony had died on Christmas morning of 2020 at the age of 69. He had been suffering from a number of maladies that had precluded him for playing or singing for several years prior, though none was life threatening. His family has never revealed the actual cause of death, as though that really matters, other than that he died alone at home while his wife and daughter were off visiting friends on Christmas.
His passing was covered by media all over the world in publications of every sort, as was befitting his status as an innovator in bluegrass music and beyond. After spending his youth with groups like The Bluegrass Alliance and J.D. Crowe & The New South, Rice stepped towards the jazz world with The David Grisman Quintet in 1977. His short stint with Crowe resulted in a single recording, the self-titled album known simply as Rounder 0044, with Ricky Skaggs and Jerry Douglas along for the ride. To this day that record is viewed as having changed the direction of contemporary bluegrass, largely as a result of Tony’s strikingly agile voice, and his plainly remarkable guitar playing.
He had reinvented bluegrass guitar, both rhythm and lead, with Crowe, and went on to define a wholly new style with Grisman, known at the time as Dawg Music, with its elements of jazz, swing, and gypsy music. Rice went on to record many albums under his own name or as The Tony Rice Unit, covering the new acoustic jazz sound he had helped pioneer, and straight ahead bluegrass as well.
Most bluegrass historians consider his crowning achievement to be the several albums recorded with The Bluegrass Album Band, with Crowe on banjo, Doyle Lawson on mandolin, Todd Phillips on bass, and Bobby Hicks and Vassar Clements on fiddle. Those six projects again redefined contemporary bluegrass for a generation, and cemented Tony’s place as an hero in the music.
You also found him in collaboration with artists of his generation like Béla Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Sam Bush, Emmylou Harris, and many others.
Rice will be inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame on Thursday, October 21 of this year. Other inductees for 2021, which will feature the 2020 class who could not be honored last year, include Robert Moog, inventor of the synthesizer, and Roberta Flack, popular jazz, Gospel, and pop singer. Also on the list are The Briarhoppers, the oldest continuously active bluegrass band in history, remaining a group since 1934.
Full details about the Hall of Fame, the presentation ceremony, and the 2020-21 inductees, can be found online.