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Bluegrass Legend George Shuffler Dead at 88

George Shuffler
Erika Goldring, Getty Images

Legendary bluegrass guitarist George Shuffler has passed away at the age of 88. He died on Monday (April 7), just shy of his 89th birthday.

A longtime member of both the Stanley Brothers and Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, Shuffler pioneered a cross-picking style of guitar playing that incorporated the melodic approach of Mother Maybelle Carter and the three-finger banjo roll, resulting in a unique style that helped to revolutionize bluegrass.

According to Bluegrass Today, Shuffler had been in failing health for several months, but his family had requested privacy in the matter.

Born the second oldest of nine children in 1925, Shuffler got his first exposure to the guitar when he was 12, when a local man showed him three basic chords. He developed his playing style while working a series of manual labor jobs, and when the opportunity came to play professionally, he was ready.

One night at a concert by the Bailey Brothers, their backing band didn’t show, and he volunteered to play bass. He wound up being invited to Nashville to play on the Grand Ole Opry with them, launching his career.

That led to a longstanding gig with the Stanley Brothers, then to a stint in gospel with his own family band.

Though Shuffler never made a lot of money in the music business — he continued to live modestly on his North Carolina farm, and even traded livestock to make ends meet between tours — he popularized a style that led to a permanent shift in bluegrass, lifting the guitar from a rhythm to a lead instrument in the genre.

Despite that, he was never one to seek the spotlight, comfortable with his role as a player and sideman.

“I was told that you have to brag on yourself to get farther up the ladder,” Shuffler told the Charlotte News & Observer in 2007. “If that’s what it takes, I don’t want it.”

He continued to play off and on until his later years, when he was mostly content to stay home, do some horse trading and occasionally attend industry events, where he was hailed for his contributions as an important originator.

“I get more compliments in Nashville than ever before,” he said in 2007. “The big stars I’ve met have all been nice and humble, at least to my face. Don’t know what they might be saying behind my back, but to my face they’re very nice.”

Shuffer was a member of the IBMA Hall of Fame, and a recipient of the North Carolina Heritage Award.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.

Next: Is Traditional Country Music Dead?

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