Thursday, June 23, 2016

Ralph Stanley

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. 


  1. from anonymous in Kingman:
    Another legend has left this old world.

  2. So sorry to hear about Dr. Ralph. I would certainly consider Mac Wiseman to be a first generation bluegrass artist, perhaps along with possibly Jesse McReynolds and Bobby Osborne.
    --Rich Leonard, Seattle, WA

  3. Rich, I would say that you are correct in mentioning Mac Wiseman. He was certainly there at the beginning. Bobby and Jesse would probably be placed in the second generation as they were in the group that followed Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and the others.

    Meanwhile, I believe this puts the Opry down to 62 members, which would be the lowest number of Opry members in decades.

  4. Sad news. Another Opry legend and bluegrass legend gone. I believe that makes Jan Howard the oldest current member at 87;
    Jesse McReyolds (86), Loretta Lynn (84), and four at 83, Roy Clark, Stu Phillips, Mel Tillis, Stonewall Jackson; and Jean Shepard at 83. Low membership numbers and long-time since last induction; aging, ill, and/or retired members; seems the writing is on the wall that the Opry will never recover, it will just keep moving in its current direction - down (as far as I am concerned).

    1. Buck White of the Whites is 85.

    2. Dont forget Bobby Osborne at 85 I believe.

  5. Fred, Bismarck:

    All due credit to Ralph, but ...

    Carter has been gone for so long it's easy to forget he was the force behind the Stanley Brothers, writing most of the songs, singing most of the solos in that unforgettable voice. As Ira was with the Louvin Brothers.

    Ralph survived him by 50 years ... amazin'.

  6. Was the Wayne Jackson that Tommy just mentioned passed, the guy that played horns with Marty Robbins in the early 80's?

    Knightsville, IN

  7. Another legend gone and the Opry´s star continues to fade away to a bygone era........
    With 62 members and aging legends......... the writing is more than on the wall........
    Dr. Stanley lived a long life, very thankful to have seen him play, and listened to him many times. He has left us a long legacy of music.

  8. I would love to see some bluegrass acts such as The Grascals and Rhonda Vincent added to the cast.

  9. Pete Fisher began the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night with the dedication to Ralph Stanley. He took just about 5 minutes and as he usually does in these situations, did a very nice job.

  10. Fred, Bismarck:

    There are hundreds of younger oldtime and bluegrass acts out there that Fisher could at least have on the show as guests, to revisit some of the Opry's old-time flavor, even if he isn't looking for new members.

    In fact, it would be better if he had them as guests rather than members, since members never seem to show up. (See Old Crow Medicine Show, which adds nothing to the Opry beyond a few minutes a couple of times a year.)

    That he doesn't -- that the real country sounds are so rarely heard on the Opry -- sends a strong message. The Opry may be doing fine at the gate, per Byron, with the gumchewers -- but what interest does that hold for the rest of us?

  11. When there are bluegrass acts on the Opry - they always receive tremendous reception and applause from the audience -- they wake up the place !! and other than Bobby Osborne, they play different music each time -- agree more bluegrass would be a great addition

  12. Tonight Eddie Stubbs is devoting his show to Ralph Stanley.