Country Music Hall of Famer Earl Scruggs passed away at a Nashville hospital on March 28. He popularized a three-fingered style of playing banjo that transformed the instrument and inspired countless musicians. He was 88.
Born in Shelby, North Carolina and raised on a farm in the Flint Hill area, Earl started playing banjo at age four after his father George, also a banjo player, died in 1928 following an illness. He and his musical partner, Lester Flatt, were the face of bluegrass in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Before that, he was a member of bluegrass creator Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys.
Earl also influenced and played with a number of artists in other genres, including folk, country and rock. Even now, fans readily recognize and can sing along with the 1962 Flatt & Scruggs song “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” which was the theme of the TV show The Beverly Hillbillies. In 1969, Flatt & Scruggs won a GRAMMY for “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”
More than 2,300 mourners turned out for a public funeral held at the Ryman Auditorium on April 1. It was a fitting tribute to the legendary banjo player, who played his songs for years on the Grand Ole Opry and Ryman stage.
“No one will ever play the banjo like Earl,” Charlie Daniels said. Better known for his fiddle and guitar playing, Charlie told those gathered that when he was a young studio musician, Earl invited him to join the Earl Scruggs Revue.
“He was the most humble musician I ever met,” Ricky Skaggs said of Earl. “He was always listening, not at himself but at the next generation.” Bluegrass artist Del McCoury echoed that statement, crediting Earl with inspiring him to pick up a guitar. “If not for Earl Scruggs, I might not have played music at all,” he said.
Earl’s closed casket sat in front of the Ryman’s famous stage with a banjo on display behind it. Del McCoury, Ricky Skaggs, Bela Fleck, Emmylou Harris, Vince Gill, Jon Randall Stewart, John McEuen, Jim Mills, Marty Stuart and Patty Loveless performed during the service.
The Recording Academy announced in November that Foggy Mountain Banjo by Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs and The Foggy Mountain Boys would be included as one of 27 new titles to be inducted into the GRAMMY Hall of Fame collection.