Bluegrass gospel music star dies
By: by Randall Franks
Donald H. “Don” Watkins, 66, patriarch of the bluegrass music group The Watkins Family of Eastanollee, Ga., died Saturday night, Jan. 26, following a heart attack during a performance at True Gospel Community Church in Dobson, N.C., according to family members.
Watkins, a guitarist, and his wife Judy began performing in the late 1970s. They led the award-nominated bluegrass family act that includes their son Todd and daughters, Lorie and Shanon since 1982 touring across the United States and Canada.
The family made a heralded appearance at the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Kentucky last September where Don proudly watched his daughter Lorie perform with the legendary banjo stylist Earl Scruggs. The group’s appearance was broadcast on the INSP, Inspirational Network.
The group broke new ground in 1988 becoming the first bluegrass gospel act to perform on Capitol Hill in the Capitol Complex in Washington D.C. attended by dignitaries from around the world.
Their successful appearance on Capital Hill even brought a request for the group to appear in Communist China prior to improved relations between the U.S. and China. “The request went all the way to the desk of then President Ronald Reagan,” Don said in a recent interview. “The president advised against it,” he said. “And so we didn’t make the trip.”
Watkins, whose family appeared on shows with legendary names of bluegrass such as Bill Monroe, Jim and Jesse, Mac Wiseman, and gospel music stars including The Speers, Gov. Jimmie Davis, and The Lewis Family, was best recognized for his smooth ability as polished master of ceremonies.
The Watkins Family formerly received nominations as the best Contemporary and Traditional Bluegrass Gospel group by the Society for the Preservation of BlueGrass Music in America which hosts its annual awards this week in Nashville and were also nominated as Best Bluegrass Act at the Coca-Cola Music Awards previously hosted in Atlanta, Ga.
With numerous albums to his credit, his group’s biggest career song is “Power of the Holy Ghost” which went top five in the bluegrass music charts.
Don also shined with his performances of “Roll Back the Stone” and “Letter in Red” on the group’s latest album, “Darkness Wept” produced by Grammy nominees Karen Peck Gooch, Mark Fain and engineered by Grammy winner Bil Vorndick.
No arrangements are yet set for the funeral services.
Randall Franks is a columnist and staff writer for News Publishing Co. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.