Bluegrass Legend Ralph Stanley Dead at 89
Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley has died. Family members confirmed that the banjo player and leader of the Clinch Mountain Boys died on Thursday (June 23) at age 89 after a battle with cancer.
Stanley’s grandson Nathan broke the news in a Facebook post on Thursday night asking for prayers as he expressed his heartache. The younger Stanley is also an accomplished bluegrass artist. He says his “Pawpaw” died after a 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.
His millions of fans and thousands he influenced likely feel the same way. Along with Bill Monroe, Stanley and his brother Carter established bluegrass music in the 1940s. ABC News reports that the boys grew up being sung traditional songs by their father, and learning to play old-time clawhammer style banjo from their mother. They formed the Clinch Mountain Boys, but when Carter died in 1966, the music seemed to stop.
Not for long, however. Ralph would recover and reform the band once again. Jerry Garcia and Bob Dylan were amongst the more distinguished fans. During an eight-decade long career he’d become Dr. Ralph Stanley, join the Grand Ole Opry (2000) and the International Bluegrass Hall of Honor (1992), and become as important to the genre as Elvis Presley was to rock ’n’ roll. In the early 2000s Stanley enjoyed a career resurgence when his songs on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack earned him a Grammy. “O Death” became a modern day signature song, drawing a much younger audience to his live shows.
The “Living Legends” medal from the Library of Congress and a National Medal of Arts were among the other honors Stanley earned. He also played for two presidential inaugurations, but perhaps his greatest honor is his legacy. In addition to his music and a family known for bluegrass players, he mentored young artists like Keith Whitley and Rick Skaggs.
Charlie Daniels was the first country star to respond the Stanley's death:
Earlier this month, Bluegrass Today shared that Dr. Stanley had retired. At the most recent Hills on the Home Festival, his son, Ralph Stanley II, announced he was taking over the Clinch Mountain Boys — a move many years in the making. Stanley did not attend this festival.
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