Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is the legendary blues musician who passed away on October 1 at the age of 80. Watkins had suffered a stroke in the weeks leading up to her death.
Watkins’ sad passing was confirmed in a Facebook post from the Music Maker Relief Foundation. The group said in a statement, “We are deeply saddened to announce that Beverly “Guitar” Watkins passed away this morning. Since 1995, Beverly has been part of the Music Maker family. We released 4 albums and did hundreds of shows with this Atlanta Blues Legend. Her tenacity on the guitar was unparalleled. Our thoughts go out to Beverly’s family.”
1. Watkins Suffered a ‘Severe Stroke’ in July 2019
The group had held a fundraiser for Watkins at Blind Willie’s Blues Club in her native Atlanta on September 1. The foundation announced on July 23 that Watkins had suffered a “severe stroke.” Watkins had previously had health issues, notably in 2006 when she suffered a heart attack while performing in Washington D.C. While recovering from that, Watkins was diagnosed with cancer, a disease she would eventually beat.
2. Watkins Didn’t Release Her First Album Until 1999
Despite a musical career that goes back to the 1950s, Watkins did not release her debut album until 1999 when she was 60 years old. The album was titled, “Back in Business” and was nominated for a W.C. Handy award.
Upon her death, Tim Duffy, the founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Watkins “was totally unsung and unheralded and had a worldwide influence.” Duffy went on to say that Watkins had played on blues records that influenced John Lennon. While fellow musician Danny “Mudcat” Dudeck” said of Watkins, “She used to show up – you could see through the glass window when she pulled up – and you would just run up there on stage to get in position.”
3. Watkins Has Been Referred to as ‘the Queen of Blues Guitar’
In 2016, Great Big Story released a documentary on Watkins. A description of the documentary read, “She may have played with James Brown, B.B. King and Otis Redding back in the day, but Beverly ‘Guitar’ Watkins of the Music Maker Relief Foundation has a style and legacy all her own. At 76, she’s still the queen of blues guitar.”
4. Watkins Shared a Stage With John Lennon in the 1960s
A biography on Watkins from the Music Maker Relief Foundation said that Watkins’ style was more similar to Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend. That profile mentions that Watkins and Hendrix shared the stage briefly in Atlanta in the 1960s. Watkins told the website that in the 1970s when she found music gigs hard to come by, she took a variety of odd jobs, including working in an office and at a car wash to supplement her income.
5. Watkins Received Her 1st Guitar When She Was 9 Years Old
Watkins told Living Blues in a November 2013 interview that her mother died when Watkins was just three months old. As a result, she was raised in the town of Commerce, Georgia, by her grandparents. While living in the town, Watkins said she received her first guitar at the age of nine. At 10, Watkins said she moved back to Atlanta to live with her aunt after her grandfather passed away. Watkins told the website, “The first thing, my aunt Margaret, she bought me a little guitar. The name of it was Stella and it had catgut strings on it. She bought me that guitar on Christma. Sometimes my granddaddy would go to a friend’s house and they get together and play the harmonica and jam. I’d be right with my grandaddy with my little guitar and I’d sit up beside him.