Jimmy Martin, one of the greatest vocalists in bluegrass, died Saturday (May 14) in a Nashville hospice where he was battling bladder cancer. He was 77.
In 1949, Martin replaced Mac Wiseman in Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, the premier bluegrass group, and served as the group’s guitarist and lead vocalist until 1954. His tenor vocals were featured on many of the Monroe band’s recordings for Decca — perhaps most memorably on the gospel sides collected in 1969 on “A Voice From on High.”
After recording with the Osborne Brothers in the mid-’50s, Martin founded his own group, the Sunny Mountain Boys. This band, which included such leaders in their own right as J.D. Crowe and Doyle Lawson, recorded such bluegrass standards as “Rock Hearts,” “Widow Maker” and “The Sunny Side of the Mountain.”
In 1972, Martin joined such other country and bluegrass legends as Maybelle Carter, Doc Watson, Roy Acuff and Earl Scruggs on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s album “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” a landmark merger of rock and country talent. In the early 1980s, Martin founded his own label, King of Bluegrass.
The oft-irascible musician was profiled in Tom Piazza’s 1999 book “True Adventures With the King of Bluegrass” and George Goehl’s 2003 film “King of Bluegrass: The Life & Times of Jimmy Martin.”
Martin’s funeral will be held Wednesday at the Cornerstone Church in Madison, Tenn.