September 25, 2006 09:15 AM

Etta Baker, a blues guitarist from North Carolina who influenced generations of musicians, from 1960s folkies to modern-day blues rockers, died on Saturday at 93.

No cause of death was given, but her health had been failing in recent years, reports the News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C. Baker died in Fairfax, Va., while visiting a daughter who had suffered a stroke.

Born in Morganton, N.C., in 1913, Baker worked in a textile mill for decades and only became a professional musician at age 60. But her style of Piedmont blues, flavored by bluegrass and featuring rapid-fire rhythmic finger-picking, resonated far and wide. According to legend, Bob Dylan met Baker around his 21st birthday and was inspired by her style to write “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Baker also influenced scores of blues musicians, including Taj Mahal, who heard her on the 1956 compilation album Instrumental Music of the Southern Appalachians. “I came upon that record in the ’60s,” Mahal told the News & Observer. “I can’t even describe how deep that was for me. Just beautiful stuff.”

Said Tim Duffy, who worked with Baker through his Music Maker Relief Foundation: “Anybody who has picked up acoustic finger-style guitar has been influenced by Etta, whether they know it or not.”

Baker won a Folk Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991 and toured on the folk-festival circuit well into her 80s. By 2006, she was too weak to play guitar and switched to banjo. Friends said she was still playing as recently as a month ago.

She appears on blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd‘s next album, due in November, and has an album of banjo tunes coming out next year.

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