John Starling (musician)

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John Starling
John Starling of The Seldom Scene.jpg
John Starling of The Seldom Scene
Background information
Birth nameJohn Lewis Starling
Born(1940-03-26)March 26, 1940
Durham, North Carolina, U.S.
DiedMay 2, 2019(2019-05-02) (aged 79)
Fredericksburg, Virginia, U.S.
Occupation(s)Otolaryngologist, bluegrass musician
Years active1971–2007
LabelsSugar Hill, Rebel Records
Associated actsThe Seldom Scene

John Lewis Starling (March 26, 1940 – May 2, 2019) was an American musician. He is a International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame inductee bluegrass musician and composer, founding member of the bluegrass group The Seldom Scene, an otolaryngological physician for communities in Alabama, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, and an amateur architect designing the field house at Virginia Military Institute, the house his parents retired in and the floor plans for the building he practiced medicine in.


John Starling was born in Durham, North Carolina, and grew up in Lexington, Virginia.[1][2] His father was hired by Washington and Lee University as a biology professor. He discovered bluegrass and country through live radio programs taking up the electric guitar during his teenage years. He is a graduate of Davidson College, Class of 1962, and then matriculated to University of Virginia where received his medical degree in 1967. While on campus, he attended folk and bluegrass jams and met future bandmate Ben Eldridge. After graduating he served in the U.S. Army as a surgeon during The Vietnam War.[3] [2]

Following his tour of duty, he did his residency at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. In Washington, he met musician Mike Auldridge through former acquaintance Ben Eldridge. The three began making music together after work in Eldridge's basement during jam sessions and eventually were joined by two former members of the bluegrass band The Country Gentlemen, John Duffey and Tom Gray, as part of these weekly informal sessions. Soon, the five musicians formed The Seldom Scene and were part of the weekly line up at The Red Fox Inn in Bethesda, Maryland and then The Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1977, Starling left the band, deciding to, in his words, “do what I was originally trying to do, which was practice medicine.”[4] Though he did manage to release a solo album “Long Time Gone” with guest appearances from Emmylou Harris, Little Feat guitarist Lowell George, pedal steel guitarist Buddy Emmons and his former bandmates. With singer Claire Lynch, he formed a country-rock band, Ready Section.

His first marriage, to bluegrass singer Fayssoux Dunbar, ended in divorce. In 1976, he married Cynthia Burks. Survivors include his wife, of Fredericksburg, and son John "Jay" Starling, a dobro player residing in the Charlottesville, Virginia area.

His recording “Spring Training” with banjoist/songwriter Carl Jackson and The Nash Ramblers won the 1992 Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. He briefly rejoined The Seldom Scene in the mid-1990s to fill in following the departure of singer/guitarist Lou Reid, while continuing his medical practice. After his retirement from medicine in 2006, he reunited with Auldridge and Gray, along with Jimmie Gaudreau and Ricky Simpkins, as "John Starling and Carolina Star" for a final collaboration, “Slidin’ Home” (2007).[3] "Dr. Starling took pride in what he termed "honesty in presentation” and considered it paramount to give an audience his best. "No matter how slick you are," he once said, "people aren’t going to buy it if you’re checking your watch to see how long you have before you go off."" [2]

On February 12, 2019, Starling was reported to be "seriously ill" and living in hospice care.[5] He died of congestive heart failure on May 2, 2019 at his Fredericksburg, Virginia home, at the age of 79.[6]


Starling shared the 1992 Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album with Carl Jackson for their album Spring Training. [7]


Solo albums[edit]

  • 1980: Long Time Gone (Sugar Hill SH-3714) [8]
  • 1982: Waitin’ On A Southern Train (Sugar Hill SH-3724)

As a member of The Seldom Scene[edit]

With Carl Jackson[edit]

  • 1991: Spring Training (Sugar Hill SH-3789)

As a member of John Starling and Carolina Star[edit]

  • 1991: Slidin’ Home (Rebel REB-CD-1820)

Other contributions[edit]


  1. ^ "John Starling Discography at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c
  3. ^ a b Lawless, John (February 20, 2007). "John Starling and Carolina Star Day in DC". Bluegrass Today. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  4. ^ Banister, C. Eric (March 1, 2007). "Dr. John Starling slides back into action". Country Standard Time. Jeffrey B. Remz. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  5. ^ "John Starling enters Hospice Care". Blue Grass Today. Retrieved February 14, 2019.
  6. ^ McArdle, Terence (May 4, 2019). "Grammy-winning co-founder of 'new grass' bluegrass group the Seldom Scene". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved May 4, 2019.
  7. ^ Vinopal, David. "John Starling Awards Allmusic". AllMusic. Retrieved May 11, 2017.
  8. ^ "John Starling Discography at Discogs". Discogs. Retrieved May 12, 2017.