Bluegrass Hall of Fame member and Grammy Award winner Roland White died at age 83 on April 1 following complications from a heart attack.
White was a top-flight mandolinist noted for his work in The Kentucky Colonels, Country Gazette and The Nashville Bluegrass Band. He was widely loved for his musical generosity, for his welcoming of newcomers, for his mentorship of youngsters and for being a kindly ambassador of Nashville music.
White was born in Maine, where he began his career in a band with his siblings. When he was 16, the family relocated to California. He and his guitarist brother Clarence White (1944-1973) formed The Kentucky Colonels in Burbank in 1954. It became one of the most influential bluegrass bands of the 1960s.
The Kentucky Colonels disbanded at the end of 1965, and Clarence White joined The Byrds. Roland White moved to Nashville and joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys for two years, 1967-69, then became a member of Lester Flatt’s band, The Nashville Grass in 1969-73. While in Flatt’s group, he was instrumental in recruiting as a band member the 13-year-old Marty Stuart, a fellow mandolinist.
Billed as The New Kentucky Colonels, the Whites’ original star-making group reorganized in 1973 and began touring again. The reunion was short lived. Clarence White was killed by a drunk driver while loading band equipment into his car following a concert.
Grief stricken Roland White carried on, becoming a member of the progressive bluegrass group Country Gazette in 1973-77. He became a part of the “founding family” of The Station Inn when it opened in 1974. The venue has since acquired a worldwide reputation as a bluegrass-music Mecca. White was a welcoming presence there, particularly after its relocation to The Gulch in Nashville in 1978.
J.T. Gray bought The Station Inn in 1981 and it became a proving ground for The Whites, Ricky Skaggs, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Sam Bush and other up-and-comers. Roland White was their resident greeter. During this period, White also recorded solo albums in 1976 and 1984.
Bluegrass superstars began dropping into the venue, often after appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, Peter Rowan and Bobby Osborne were known to stop by to pick and sing in the 1980s. Since then, a who’s-who of bluegrass has played at the club.
In 1989, Roland White became a member of The Nashville Bluegrass Band. During the next few years, he recorded five albums with the group, including the Grammy winning Watin’ for the Hard Times to Go (1994) and Unleashed (1996).
A singer and guitarist as well as a mandolin virtuoso, Roland White formed his own group in 2000. The Roland White Band recorded albums in 2003 and 2018.
He continued to sit in at Station Inn jam sessions. He curated an annual Bill Monroe Tribute night at the club and organized many benefit shows for musicians in need.
During his long career, White appeared on recordings with Mac Wiseman, Doc Watson, Clint Black, Ry Cooder, Marty Stuart, Alan Munde, Bernadette Peters, Ricky Skaggs, Valarie Smith, Stuart Duncan, David Grier, Gene Wooten, Glenn Duncan, Bobby Hicks, The Whites, Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Butch Robbins and many others.
Roland White was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 2017. His band The Kentucky Colonels was inducted in 2019.
He is survived by his wife and musical partner Diane Bouska, daughter Roline Hodge, son Lawrence Lee LeBlanc, sister Rosemarie Johnson, two grandchildren and a great-grandchild. There will be a visitation from 3-7 PM on Wednesday (April 6) at Spring Hill Funeral Home and Cemetery, 5110 Gallatin Pike. A celebration of life will be organized at a future date.
The family requests that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the International Bluegrass Music Association Foundation at bluegrassfoundation.org.
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Anne Wilson’s New Track Is ‘Beautifully Written’ - February 15, 2024
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Dan + Shay Deliver ‘Delicate, Pristine Production’ - February 8, 2024
- DISClaimer Single Reviews: Morgan Wallen Shows Off The ‘Warmth In His Singing Voice’ - February 1, 2024