J.D. Crowe, a Grammy-winning banjo player whose mastery of the instrument inspired generations of bluegrass fans, died early on Friday morning, his family announced on social media. He was 84. No cause of death or location was given.
“This morning at around 3 a.m,, our dad, JD Crowe, went home. Prayers needed for all during this difficult time,” family members said in a post on his Facebook fan club page. Crowe had been active in music until 2019, when COPD forced him to stop performing.
Crowe’s death came a year after another bluegrass legend, guitarist Tony Rice, a former member of Crowe’s New South, died on Christmas a year ago.
Crowe’s career dates to the late 1950s, when he joined the Sunny Mountain Boys at age 19. In 1961, Crowe formed the Kentucky Mountain Boys, changing the name In 1971 to J.D. Crowe & the New South.
Under that name, the group recorded the landark 1975 album The New South for Rounder Records. The group included Tony Rice on guitar, Ricky Skaggs on mandolin, Bobby Sloane on bass and Jerry Douglas on guitar, a superstar bluegrass lineup.
The New South became something of the ultimate brand name for bluegrass. Over the years, such genre stars as Keith Whitley, Gene Johnson, Don Rigsby, Richard Bennett, Ron Stewart, Phil Leadbetter and Rickey Wasson were part of it.
In 1983, Crowe won a Grammy for Fireball in the country instrumental of the year category. Other accolades followed, including the Bluegrass Star Award in 2011, an honorary doctorate from the University of Kentucky in 2012, and a lifetime achievement award from the Lexington Music Awards in 2016. He also was the named leader of an annual Kentucky concert, the J.D. Crowe Bluegrass Festival.
Bluegrass Today’s John Lawless wrote: “Everyone in bluegrass music was fond of J.D. Crowe… His affable, humble, and fun-loving personality made him everyone’s friend, and any attempts to shower him with praise for his music were always met with deferrals and a bit of embarrassment… No one every played bluegrass banjo more passionately, more inventively, or more interestingly than he did. Two generations of pickers have studied his playing, and even those who are taking the three finger style in new directions, like Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, and Noam Pikelny, will readily acknowledge Crowe as a major influence and an unmistakable stylist in his own right. If Earl Scruggs was a machine, J.D. Crowe was a carnival ride. His playing was fun, lighthearted, and even frivolous at times, all coming from his own distinct personality.”
Information on survivors and memorial plans were not immediately available.
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