Sign up for newsletter
 

Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley dies

Thursday, June 23, 2016 – Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley, who with his brother Carter helped expand and popularize the genre, died Thursday from difficulties with skin cancer. He was 89.

Stanley was born and raised in southwest Virginia, where he and his brother formed the Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946. Their father would sing them old traditional songs like "Man of Constant Sorrow," while their mother, a banjo player, taught them the old-time clawhammer style, in which the player's fingers strike downward at the strings in a rhythmic style.

Heavily influenced by Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe, the brothers fused Monroe's rapid rhythms with the mountain folk songs from groups such as the Carter Family, who hailed from this same area.

The Stanleys created a three-part harmony that combined the lead vocal of Carter with Ralph's tenor and an even higher part sung by bandmate Pee Wee Lambert. Carter's songwriting professed a passion for the rural landscape, but also took into account lonesomeness and personal loss.

The brothers were swept into the burgeoning folk movement and they toured the country playing folk and bluegrass festivals during the 1960s, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and 1964.

Carter Stanley died of liver disease in 1966, and Ralph wasn't sure he could continue. His brother had been the main songwriter, lead singer and front man, and Ralph was withdrawn and shy.

"Within weeks of his passing, I got phone calls and letters and telegrams and they all said don't quit. They said, 'We've always been behind you and Carter, but now we'll be behind you even more because we know you'll need us,'" Stanley told The Associated Press in 2006.

Ralph drew deeper from his Appalachian roots, adopting the a cappella singing style of the Primitive Baptist church where he was raised. He reformed the Clinch Mountain Boys band to include Ray Cline, vocalist Larry Sparks and Melvin Goins. He changed the lineup over the years, later including Jack Cooke, and mentored younger artists like Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs, who also performed with him.

Stanley was given an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn. in 1976, resulting in him being known as Dr. Ralph Stanley. He performed at the inaugurations of U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, was given a "Living Legends" medal from the Library of Congress and a National Medal of Arts presented by the National Endowment for the Arts and President George W. Bush. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry in 2000.

At 73, Stanley had a big rebirth thanks to his 2000 recording of the a cappella dirge "O Death" from the hit Coen Brothers' "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" movie soundtrack. The album was a huge hit, topping the Billboard 200 chart, as well as the country albums and soundtrack charts, and sold millions of copies.

He won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in 2002 and was the focus of a successful tour and documentary inspired by the soundtrack. The soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett, also won a Grammy for album of the year. The following year he and Jim Lauderdale would win a Grammy for best bluegrass album for "Lost in the Lonesome Pines."

He said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2002 that younger people were coming to see his shows and hear his "old time music," and was enjoying the belated recognition. "I wish it had come 25 years sooner," he said. "I am still enjoying it, but I would have had longer to enjoy it."

Despite health problems, he continued to record and tour into his 80s, often performing with his son Ralph Stanley II on guitar and his grandson Nathan on mandolin.

He is survived by his wife Jimmie Stanley - they were to celebrate their 48th wedding anniversary on July 2. He is also survived by his children: Lisa Stanley Marshall, Tonya Armes Stanley and Ralph Stanley II; grandchildren Nathan Stanley, Amber Meade Stanley, Evan Stout, Ashley Marshall, Alexis Marshall, Taylor Stanley and Ralph Stanley III; and great grandchild Mckenzie Stanley. Memorial service details are pending and will be announced shortly.

More news for Ralph Stanley

CD reviews for Ralph Stanley

Man of Constant Sorrow (2015) CD review - Man of Constant Sorrow (2015)
Dr. Ralph Stanley can't sit still; he tried to retire in 2013 and even went out on a farewell tour, but the three-time Grammy winner just wasn't ready to say farewell, yet. Making music for well over half a century, Stanley has been re-shaping music his entire career, riding firmly in the path of bluegrass tradition while helping shape that tradition with his iconic high lonesome sound. After his brother Carter's death in 1964, he refashioned the Clinch Mountain Boys, focusing on »»»
A Mother's Prayer CD review - A Mother's Prayer
On encountering a new album from an artist whose catalog already runs into triple digits over a career now in its seventh decade, it's easy to wonder how much more he's really got to say. But for Ralph Stanley, now 84 and more than 10 years removed from the renown he gained in the course of the O Brother phenomenon, there's still a deep well of music to be drawn from the lives and faith of his Appalachian forebears. "A Mother's Prayer" is far from his first »»»
Old-Time Pickin' A Clawhammer Banjo Collection CD review - Old-Time Pickin' A Clawhammer Banjo Collection
After more than 50 years of pickin' and singing, Dr. Ralph Stanley's legend continues to grow. Stanley is widely renowned for his clawhammer banjo picking, which he picked up as a child in the hills of Virginia. With brother Carter doing most of the singing, they formed a powerful presence in traditional music. It was not until the death of Carter, that Ralph's own vocal prowess began to emerge. Stanley's tenor vocals truly shine in harmony here with Charlie Sizemore in »»»
Editorial: Walking the talk – When names like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Waylon and the Hag are invoked, you're talking hard core country. These are the touchstones of country , the guys who made country music what it was and still is (or maybe can be). When these folks would sing about being down-and-out and the rough-and-tumble, they knew of what they were singing about. Fast forward a few years to the country singers of today. »»»
Concert Review: Jinks wins over fans, especially new ones – Cody Jinks asked the crowd a bit into his show how many had never seen him before. It seemed like Jinks has made a lot of musical inroads into the public's consciousness because roughly three quarters of the audience raised their hands to show that this was their first time. That probably made Jinks feel pretty darn good about how life has been... »»»
Concert Review: Fogerty lives up to his past – Woodstock 50 may never have happened, but that original monumental event was certainly in the air at John Fogerty's My 50 Year Trip Tour before, during and after. The before and after was in the choice of songs that came over the speakers including everything from Jefferson Airplane's "Don't You Want Somebody to Love" to The... »»»
Follow Country Standard Time  Subscribe to Country News Digest  Follow Country Standard Time on twitter  Visit Country Standard Time on Facebook 

Elsewhere in the news

Currently at the CST blogs

Chip Kinman celebrates brother, career on "Sounds Like Music" For a brief moment last summer, the news of Tony Kinman's death was, if not greatly exaggerated, then at least fortuitously premature. The roots rock icon, known for his work in The Dils, Rank and File, Blackbird and Cowboy Nation with his younger brother Chip, had been diagnosed with cancer in March 2018,... »»»
Shiflett learns "Hard Lessons" Until recently, Chris Shiflett took a somewhat obsessive/compulsive approach to his music career. For the past two decades, Shiflett has been the primary guitar foil for Dave Grohl in Foo Fighters; early in his tenure, Shiflett was so self-deprecatingly... »»»
White embraces "The Hurting Kind" John Paul White, to paraphrase a Steve Earle song, may just be one of the last of the hardcore troubadours. By 'troubadour,' we mean one of those guys that lives to write great songs - more specifically, great country songs - and then get these songs into the ears of folks that... »»»
Bingham gets personal with "American Love Song"...again A lot of the early reviews for "American Love Song," Ryan Bingham's latest set of raucous and reflective Americana brilliance, have characterized it as the singer/ songwriter's most personal album to date.... »»»
Wilson goes her own way After having huge success at the get go with "Redneck Woman," Wilson eventually went her own way and took a break. During her "hiatus," Wilson started her own label and was a "120 percent mom" to her teenage daughter.... »»»
New Moon Over My Shoulder CD review - New Moon Over My Shoulder
Larry Sparks was still a teenager when Ralph Stanley chose him to replace his brother Carter Stanley as guitarist and lead singer in the Clinch Mountain Boys in the wake of Carter's passing in December 1966. »»»
Chronicle: Friends and Music CD review - Chronicle: Friends and Music
The third solo album from a member of Sister Sadie to be released in 2019, "Chronicle: Friends and Music" (following those of Deanie Richardson and Dale Ann Bradley) reflects the breadth of modern bluegrass: energetic and intense, »»»
Blue Roses CD review - Blue Roses

Runaway June - Naomi Cooke, Hannah Mulholland and Jennifer Wayne - weave gorgeous harmonies around the lyrics of these songs on their new album, all but four of which they wrote with other writers. »»»

From Another World CD review - From Another World
Following the passing of the late, great James Brown, there are those that have argued that Jim Lauderdale rightfully deserves to inherit the title of the hardest working man in show business. And for good reason. »»»
Breakdown on 20th Ave. South
"Breakdown on 20th Ave. South is significant in a number of ways. For starters, it marks Julie Miller's return to making music after an absence of 10 years. For another, it finds her collaborating once again with her ever prolific  »»»
Ride Me Back Home CD review - Ride Me Back Home
Time may be an enemy to most, but Willie Nelson seems a bit impervious to its ravages - a fact made evident on "Ride Me Back Home," a relaxed affair that showcases Nelson's still-strong voice and his sharp-as-ever songwriting and interpreting abilities. »»»