The music community is mourning the loss of bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice, who passed away on Christmas Day at the age of 69. Rice was renowned for his impeccable flatpicking guitar style and melodic soloing.
Rounder Records, Rice’s record label, shared the news on social media and tribute poured in from fans worldwide. “We were all deeply saddened by the news of Tony Rice’s sudden passing on Christmas Day, and we offer our deepest condolences to his loved ones and his many fans. May he Rest In Peace.”
Rice grew up in California before moving to Kentucky in his late teens. He joined J.D. Crowe’s New South, which led to recognition from the bluegrass community, before forming the Tony Rice Unit. Over the years he recorded with a number of artists including David Grisman, Jerry Garcia, Ricky Skaggs, Norman Blake and Béla Fleck.
Skaggs posted a moving tribute, calling Rice “the single most influential acoustic guitar player in the last 50 years” and shared some information on his final moments.
“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. It’s still quite a shock to the whole family.”
Rice was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2013. His influences was far and wide, as can be seen in the many social media posts mourning his passing.
Sometime during Christmas morning while making his coffee, our dear friend and guitar hero Tony Rice passed from this…Posted by Ricky Skaggs on Saturday, December 26, 2020
Rounder co-founder Ken Irwin on Tony Rice’s untimely passing: “Listening to Tony onstage or in the studio was always an unforgettable experience. We’ll always miss him and be grateful for the pleasure he gave to us all! We’re at a loss for words.” pic.twitter.com/YSAjnVPM4D— Rounder Records (@RounderRecords) December 27, 2020
I’m beyond heartbroken to hear about the passing of Tony Rice. 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.— Chris Thile (@christhile) December 27, 2020
In this ass-kicker of a year, it’s a significant loss: Tony Rice, who never played a bad note in his life, left the planet yesterday. Bluegrass music has an enormous vacancy. https://t.co/1Sp5hw99vp— rosanne cash (@rosannecash) December 27, 2020
Tony Rice made something incredibly difficult look incredibly easy. A bluegrass and Americana music icon. Rest In Peace. pic.twitter.com/CWBYFCQNi7— Joe Bonamassa (Official) (@JBONAMASSA) December 27, 2020
Cool, elegant, badass, classy.. always in the same mood as that old D-28. Thank you Tony ♥️ RIP legend pic.twitter.com/jGspkkZ13j— Billy Strings (@BillyStrings) December 26, 2020
The guitar world lost a giant, and we’ve been at a loss for words. Tony Rice, you are more than influential, more than a…Posted by Taylor Guitars on Sunday, December 27, 2020
You were there for me… #tonyrice So glad that @sambushband and I got to induct you into the @bluegrasshall. We had such fun making music together! A true joy!
Mary Chapin Carpenter: “I am devastated by the news that Tony Rice has passed away. A million nights of sitting in darkened corners of the legendary Birchmere , hanging on every note he played and sang just overtook me. He was a musical hero and a genius guitarist who literally changed how people imagined an acoustic guitar could be played. When we became friends, he encouraged me as a songwriter and continually inspired me as an artist who saw boundaries merely as markers to leap over…when he recorded one of my songs I could have quit there and then and been happy with my lot. Thank you Tony and rest easy, there are stars in your crown.”
Mark O’Connor has a detailed and moving blog post on his site here. He recounts the awe he felt performing alongside him.
“I never will ever get Tony Rice out of my mind, because he is in fact my childhood hero and I got to work with him as a kid. When I play guitar even yesterday on Christmas Day, Tony came into my mind. I was thinking about Tony even more the last few days, how I would write about our relationship in my autobiography I am committed to begin in earnest again, after 3 false starts over the last decade. When there are profound musical relationships in life, it doesn’t get any easier with time.”