James Henry Martin, 10 August 1927, on a farm near Sneedville, Tennessee, USA, d. 14 May 2005, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Martin learned to play the guitar as a boy and first appeared on radio in Morristown in 1948. He joined Bill Monroe in 1949 and remained with him (except for a short break) until 1954. Many rate Martin to be the finest lead singer and guitarist ever to work with Monroe. He played on some of Monroes best recordings and sang notable duets with him, including Memories Of Mother And Dad. In the mid-50s, he worked with the Osborne Brothers, with whom he recorded 20-20 Vision, before forming his own Sunny Mountain Boys. Martin went on to become a legend of bluegrass music, playing the WJR Detroit Barn Dance, The Louisiana Hayride and all major venues. His band contained some great bluegrass musicians, including J.D. Crowe, Doyle Lawson and Alan Munde. He recorded for Decca Records from the late 50s to the mid-70s and enjoyed some chart successes including Rock Hearts (1958) and Widow Maker (1964). He also achieved acclaim for his work on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Bands legendary 1972 album, Will The Circle Be Unbroken. In the late 70s and early 80s Martin recorded several albums for Gusto Records before inaugurating his own King Of Bluegrass label.
Martin remained an exciting concert draw into the new millennium, although bladder cancer forced a temporary retirement from the road. George Goehl profiled the singer in his entertaining 2003 film King Of Bluegrass: The Life & Times Of Jimmy Martin. Two years later, in May 2005, Martin finally succumbed to cancer. Many experts believe that Martin was never afforded full credit for his contributions over the years. It may be that his frankness and the perfection that he expected from his musicians at times worked against him.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.