Smithsonian Folkways Remembers John Starling (1940-2019)
Smithsonian Folkways mourns the passing of GRAMMY-award winning musician and Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee John Starling (1940-2019), who died May 2 at the age of 79 in his home of Fredricksburg, Virginia. A founding member of iconic bluegrass band the Seldom Scene, he recorded six critically acclaimed albums with the group between 1972-1977, and is considered to be one of bluegrass’ greatest singers. A respected surgeon and ear, nose, and throat specialist, Starling left the group to focus on his medical practice, but would periodically return to the band for reunion performances.
Starling made a guest appearance on the Seldom Scene’s 2014 Smithsonian Folkways album Long Time…Seldom Scene, contributing on guitar and vocals to new arrangements of classic Scene hits, including fan favorite, "Wait a Minute.” He won the GRAMMY for Best Bluegrass Album for his 1991 collaborative effort with Carl Jackson, Spring Training. He also played guitar and was musical consultant for the GRAMMY-award winning album Trio by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, and Linda Rondstadt, with whom he was close friends. He is survived by his wife Cynthia and son Jay.
Ronnie Simpkins, bassist for the Seldom Scene since 1995, and Audio Recording Specialist at Smithsonian Folkways says, “I had the pleasure and honor to know John personally and perform live and in the studio with him. He had one of the greatest voices with the best phrasing in any kind of music. In addition to that, he was second to none when it came to selecting and arranging a song. He will be sorely missed."