The Grand Ole Opry has lost another member as Ralph Stanley has passed away after a long battle with skin cancer. Dr. Ralph was 86 and was the last of the first generation of bluegrass stars still alive.
Ralph Edmund Stanley was born on February 25, 1927 in Dickinson County, Virginia, where he lived his entire life. With his brother Carter, the Stanley Brothers formed the Clinch Mountain Boys shortly after World War II. After Carter's death in 1966, Ralph Stanley continued on with his solo career. Considered a part of the first generation of bluegrass performers, Ralph was a member of the International Bluegrass Hall of Honor, elected in 1992.
While he first achieved recognition as a member of one of country music's best loved brother duos, Dr. Ralph Stanley's long solo career has earned him critical acclaim and the devotion of generations of fans. Born in the Clinch Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, Ralph's mother taught him the basics of the old time clawhammer style of banjo playing when he was young, around the time he and his older brother Carter were learning to sing in church.
After returning from military service at the end of World War II, Ralph and Carter formed the clinch mountain boys, and made their first record for Rich-R-Tone label in 1947. The Stanley Brothers, with their signature mournful duets, went on to record for Columbia Records, Mercury and King, introducing what are now some of the most loved songs in the country and bluegrass repertoire.
After Carter's death in 1966, Ralph began emphasizing a more mature, rural sound, build around his distinguished tenor singing and simple-but-driving, "Stanley style," banjo playing. Over the decades his band has included many promising young talents including Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, grandson Nathan Stanley, and son Ralph Stanley II, all of whom eventually graduated to distinguished solo careers. A wider audience embraced Ralph's music in the '90s when he invited acclaimed artists such as Vince Gill, George Jones, and Bob Dylan to be guests on his albums. In 2002, he earned a Grammy award for his acapella performance of "Oh Death" from the award-winning "Oh Brother Where Art Thou?" soundtrack. Among Ralph's many other honors are the Library of Congress's Living Legend Award and two honorary degrees (Lincoln Memorial University and Yale University) that led to his universal recognition as "Doctor Ralph." From his 2015 album "Man of Constant Sorrow," co-produced by Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale, the likes of Elvis Costello, Robert Plant, Josh Turner, and Dierks Bentley joined him, further affirming that Dr Ralph Stanley is an American treasure.
Ralph Stanley joined the Grand Ole Opry on January 15, 2000, with Patty Loveless and Porter Wagoner doing the induction, an induction that was well deserved.
In addition to seeing Ralph Stanley on the Opry numerous times, I also had the pleasure of seeing him in concert a few years ago when he came up to Ohio. After the show, he did a meet and greet, where he signed his autobiography for me, along with a Stanley Brothers CD. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word who never forgot where his roots were.
Prayers and thoughts go to the family and friends of Ralph Stanley.