Traditional Plus: Doc Watson’s Transformation of Appalachian Music/Culture on the World’s Stage


Ted Olson (East Tennessee State University)

In a virtual presentation during the 2021 AFS conference, I propose to discuss the major roles of master musician Doc Watson in interpreting, popularizing, and transforming Appalachian music and culture during his 60-year career as a professional musician. I'll discuss Watson's trajectory as an artist, as he rose from his roles as a respected local musician to international recognition and near-universal respect (achieved without compromising his distinctly Appalachian values and artistic vision--he referred to his music as "traditional plus," and throughout his career he explored the roots of Appalachian music while freely adding modern elements). I'll argue that Doc Watson was not only among the most influential Appalachians of the past half a century (and certainly among the most talented musicians from the region), but he was also among the most successful public figures to effectively challenge the entrenched regional stereotypes that had negatively impacted Appalachian people since the settlement of Appalachia by European immigrants in the 18th Century.

Part of 32-05 Context and Change in American Folk Music, Wednesday, October 20, 11:15 am–12:45 pm