Bluegrass Maestro Ralph Stanley Dies at 89

Ralph Stanley - National Heritage Fellow Portrait by Tom Pich
Ralph Stanley – National Heritage Fellow Portrait by Tom Pich


Acclaimed bluegrass banjo player and vocalist Ralph Stanley, “Dr. Ralph,” passed away at his home in the mountains of southwestern Virginia.

Ralph Edmund Stanley was born February 25, 1927 in Big Spraddle, Virginia. He learned ballads and how to play banjo from his mother. Her repertory included traditional narrative songs and 19th-century hymns sung a cappella.

After graduating high school and serving in the United States Army, he joined older brother Carter to form the Clinch Mountain Boys. They started performing on local radio stations and at regional venues.

After Columbia Records signed them, they become known as The Stanley Brothers and went on to record such classics as “Angel Band,” “Little Maggie” and their highly popular song, “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Ralph Stanley developed a unique style of playing the banjo that became known as “Stanley style.” The Stanley Brothers became one of the most popular brother acts in country music history.



In 1976, Stanley received an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee and became known as “Dr. Ralph Stanley.”

In 1984, Ralph Stanley was the recipient of the “National Heritage Award.” In 1992 Ralph Stanley was inducted into the” International Bluegrass Music Hall Of Honor”. In 2000 he was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.

Ralph Stanley was introduced to a new generation of fans thanks to his stirring a cappella hymn “O Death” from the hit Coen Brothers’ “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie soundtrack. The album was a bestselling hit. In 2002 Ralph Stanley received his first ever Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance of the haunting rendition of “Oh Death.”

The following year Ralph Stanley and Jim Lauderdale won a Grammy for best bluegrass album for “Lost in the Lonesome Pines.”

In 2006 He received the Living Legend award from the Library of Congress and National medal of arts given by President George W. Bush.


Ralph Stanley
Ralph Stanley


Ralph Stanley’s continuation of a cappella singing led to its revival in contemporary bluegrass bands. Some of country and bluegrass music’s biggest stars came from Ralph Stanley’s band, including Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks and the late Keith Whitley.


Ralph Stanley: A Mother’s Prayer Video Preview

Ralph Stanley is survived by his wife Jimmie Stanley; his children Lisa Stanley Marshall, Tonya Armes Stanley and Ralph Stanley II; his grandchildren Nathan Stanley, Amber Meade Stanley, Evan Stout, Ashley Marshall, Alexis Marshall, Taylor Stanley, and Ralph Stanley III; and great grandchild Mckenzie Stanley.

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.


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