Tony Rice, one of the most influential bluegrass guitarists of all time, died on December 25, the International Bluegrass Association confirmed. He was 69. Rice was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame in 2013. “Few will ever match his skill and influence,” the organization said in a statement. Rice, whose career spanned 40 years, played with the band the New South, and frequently collaborated with fellow bluegrass musicians David Grisman and Norman Blake. Renowned for his flatpicking guitar style, Rice also led the Tony Rice Unit and the Bluegrass Album Band, releasing the records Manzanita and Church Street Blues under the former to great acclaim. Rice was unable to sing after a diagnosis of muscle-tension dysphonia in 1994, and his final public guitar performance was in 2013, at his International Bluegrass Hall of Fame induction.
Tributes to Rice poured in on social media in the wake of his passing, with mandolinist Chris Thile tweeting, “No one has had a more profound impact on my musical world. His playing, singing, writing, and arranging broke the bluegrass mold and will eternally attest to the fact that music can take you anywhere, from anywhere.” Violinist Mark O’Conner wrote of Rice and his signature guitar, “Tony was my hero on the guitar that really mattered to me – on the dreadnought Martin D-28 – the sound of it, and the sound of him. It was everything.” Rice’s friend and collaborator Ricky Skaggs added on Facebook, “Tony Rice was the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years.”