Watson, one of nine children, was born and raised in North Carolina. He went blind after suffering an eye infection as an infant. At his parents' urging, he picked up the harmonica anyhow and soon traded it in for a banjo, and finally a guitar. He soon adopted a flat-picking style that he more or less made famous, and his ability to transpose fiddle parts to guitar made for breakneck melodies that helped make the guitar a respected solo instrument in American folk music.
Throughout his career, though, Doc simply referred to his music as "country pickin'."
He is survived by Rosa Lee Carlton, his wife of 65 years, and a daughter, Nancy Ellen. His son Merle, who often accompanied Doc onstage and on recordings, died in a tractor accident in 1985, at age 36.
Here's "Deep River Blues," which my father—one of the many people Watson likely inspired to pick up a guitar in the first place—often plays. There is a wonderful trove of Watson videos collected on YouTube; share your favorites in the comments.