Tony Rice, master bluegrass guitarist, dies at 69

Tony Rice is shown around 2000 smiling and strumming on a guitar.
Celebrated guitarist Tony Rice released dozens of albums and received awards including a 1993 Grammy for best country instrumental performance.
(Stephen A. Ide / Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images)

Tony Rice, the master bluegrass picker who drew fans worldwide for the chance to hear the quick, fluid sounds he conjured from his Martin D-28 guitar, has died at age 69.

Rice died Friday at his home in Reidsville, N.C., according to International Bluegrass Music Assn. spokesperson Casey Campbell.

Ricky Skaggs, one of the many musicians who revered Rice and performed and recorded with him, called him “the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years.”


“Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this life and made his swift journey to his heavenly home,” Skaggs wrote on Facebook this weekend.

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“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.”

Tall and lean, and with an understated live presence that contrasted with the dynamism of his guitar, Rice had health problems over the past quarter of a century.

A muscle disorder around his vocal cords left him unable to sing onstage, and tennis elbow limited his playing. His last live guitar performance was in 2013, when he was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

“I am not going to go back out into the public eye until I can be the musician that I was, where I left off or better,” Rice told the Greensboro News & Record in 2015. “I have been blessed with a very devout audience all these years, and I am certainly not going to let anybody down.”

Rice released dozens of albums, including several as a member of the David Grisman Quintet; “Skaggs & Rice” with Ricky Skaggs; “Manzanita” as leader of “The Tony Rice Unit”; and such solo efforts as “Tony Rice” and “Me & My Guitar.”


He played with a range of performers, including Jerry Garcia and Dolly Parton, and received honors including a Grammy in 1993 for best country instrumental performance and citations from the International Bluegrass Music Assn. as guitarist of the year.