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Knoxville bluegrass legend 'Uncle Phil' Leadbetter dies at 59

Leadbetter was a five-time cancer survivor and renowned dobro player. His friends remembered him as a wonderful person, saying he leaves behind a large legacy.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — East Tennessee has lost a bluegrass music legend. Phil Leadbetter, affectionately known as "Uncle Phil," has died at the age of 59. 

In late September, Leadbetter posted to Facebook that he was being hospitalized for COVID-19. Leadbetter was a five-time cancer survivor. 

Leadbetter began playing a dobro resonator guitar as a child, working with country music greats -- including Dale Ann Bradley, Grandpa Jones and Verne Gosdin.

Most recently, he played with the all-stars of bluegrass with his friend Steve Gulley, another Knoxville bluegrass artist who died in 2020 at 57 after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

The International Bluegrass Association named Leadbetter the Dobro Player of the Year three times, and Gibson even named a signature dobro after him.

Tony Lawson with East Tennessee's own WDVX in Knoxville remembered his long-time friend as a wonderful and caring person.

"He definitely made his impact in many ways, and he leaves his legacy that I know a lot of our regional musicians and friends here in East Tennessee feel the loss because he was so wonderful to everyone," Lawson said.

Debbie Gulley, Steve Gulley's wife, organized a GoFundMe for the Leadbetter family as he fought COVID-19 -- saying the doctor's bills for his hospitalization were "astronomical." She said the money will help cover the medical bills as well as funeral expenses.

"Phil passed away peacefully 10/14/2021 and is now spending eternity in the presence of our Lord. Please continue to pray for his wife Lisa and son Matt and all the Leadbetter family as they face the difficult days ahead," she said.