Bluegrass legend Tony Rice died on Christmas Day in his North Carolina home, the International Bluegrass Music Association confirmed to Fox News. No cause of death was given.
The musician was 69.
“It is with a heavy heart we say goodbye to one of the most iconic voices and musicians in bluegrass history. David Anthony ‘Tony’ Rice passed away at his home in Reidsville, N.C.,” a statement from the music association read, according to Fox. It went on:
For those of us lucky enough to know and hear Mr. Rice, it is an impossible task to put into words his infinite skill and influence. As a singer, songwriter and guitar player, there are few that will ever match his impact on bluegrass and acoustic music.
Rounder Records, which was Rice’s label during his music career, also eulogized him in a Facebook post, writing: “We were all deeply saddened by the news of Tony Rice’s sudden passing on Christmas Day, and we offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and his many fans. May he Rest In Peace.”
“A singer from the heart”
As noted by Fox News, Rice may have been best known for playing alongside bluegrass singer Ricky Skaggs in the band New South.
“Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years,” Skaggs wrote on Facebook. “Many if not all of the Bluegrass guitar players of today would say that they cut their teeth on Tony Rice’s music. He loved hearing the next generation players play his licks. I think that’s where he got most of his joy as a player.”
Skaggs called Rice “brilliant” and “a singer from the heart.” The two sang together often and recorded an album, Skaggs And Rice.
Artists post tributes
Rice played in many other bands as well, including some of his own, such as The Tony Rice Unit. He also worked with banjoist Béla Fleck and Jerry Garcia.
“Playing with Tony was like climbing aboard a magic carpet,” Fleck tweeted. “His rhythm playing set you free.”
Country music star Kenny Chesney also chimed in, writing on Twitter, “Tony Rice inspired so many including a kid like me from East Tennessee who was in awe of the way he sang and played Me And My Guitar. I’ll never forget seeing him sing that at the IBMA Bluegrass Festival in Owensboro, Ky. It’s printed in my brain forever! Rest In Peace Tony Rice.”
Rice performed until 1994, when he developed muscle-tension dystonia and could no longer sing, Fox reported.
He was inducted into the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 2013, and that was reportedly the last time he played guitar publicly as his illness progressed.