Friday, June 24, 2016

Passings: Ralph Stanley (1927 - 2016)

by VVN Music

Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley has died after battling skin cancer. He was 89.

Stanley's grandson, Nathan, announced his passing on Facebook:

"My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr. Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus just a few minutes ago. He went peacefully in his sleep due to a long, horrible battle with Skin Cancer. I feel so lost and so alone right now. He was my world, and he was my everything. He was always there for me no matter what. I just cannot get a grip on this. My Papaw was loved by millions of fans from all around the world, and he loved all of you. If he was singing snd [sic] on sage, he was happy. That's why I did so much to make it possible for him to travel in the last two years. Because he wanted to. Please keep me and my family in your prayers. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to face in my life. The only thing that gives me peace, is knowing he is in paradise and I'll see my best friend again. I love you papaw with all of my heart. As long as I live and breathe, your legacy will never die. You will forever be in my heart."

-Nathan Stanley
Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
Stanley didn't take an interest in music until he was in his teens. His mother bought him a banjo, learning to play it "clawhammer style".

After a stint in the Army, he came home and went directly into performing, at first with his brother Carters' band Roy Sykes and the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys and, later, with another brother, Carter, forming the Clinch Mountain Boys.

The new band soon found themselves with a regular series, Farm and Fun Time, on WCBY in Bristol, VA, at first playing covers of music by other bluegrass artists like Bill Monroe but eventually writing and performing their own music.

Changing their name to The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, they originally signed with the small Rich-R-Tone Records in 1947, eventually moving to Columbia in 1948, Mercury and, in the late 50's,  King Records. Among their most popular songs were The Lonesome River, White Dove and Man of Constant Sorrows. The band were caught up in the folk revival of the early-60's, playing at numerous festivals, until 1966 when Carter died from liver disease.

As Carter had been the real frontman of the group, it took time for Ralph to decide to continue in music, eventually taking over lead duties.

The personnel in the Clinch Mountain Boys changed regularly over the years and gave starts to such artists as Keith Whitley and Ricky Skaggs. Stanley's reputation grew beyond bluegrass circles with artists like Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan heaping praise.

Stanley made numerous albums over the years but it was the soundtrack to the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou? that brought him renewed popularity. He won a Grammy for the track O Death and later won a second for his album Lost in the Lonesome Pines.

Among his accolades were a National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment For the Arts (1984), IBMA Hall of Honor (1992), Induction into the Grand Ole Opry (2000), Living Legend from the Library of Congress (2000) and National Medal of Arts (2006). His autobiography, Man of Constant Sorrow: The Life and Times of a Music Legend was released in 2009.

Stanley is survived by his wife, Jimmi, three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchildren.