Ralph Stanley Biography

Ralph Edmond Stanley, 25 February 1927, Big Spraddle Creek, near Stratton, Dickenson County, Virginia, USA. Over the years, Stanley’s style of banjo playing has been copied by many young musicians and he has become respected (like Bill Monroe) as one of the most important artists in the popularization of bluegrass music.

Stanley first started performing in 1941, forming the Lazy Ramblers with his brother Carter and two school friends. The brothers first worked together as a duo (the Stanley Brothers) the following year, with Carter on guitar and Ralph on banjo, and the former singing lead to Ralph’s tenor harmony. Four years later they established their act on a more permanent basis, and with backing from the Clinch Mountain Boys they quickly became one of the most renowned bluegrass acts on the country circuit.

After his brother’s untimely death in December 1966, Ralph Stanley re-formed the Clinch Mountain Boys, hiring Roy Lee Centers as lead vocalist, and continued to play and record bluegrass music. In 1970, he started the annual Bluegrass Festival (named after his brother), an event that attracted large numbers of musicians and bluegrass fans. During the 70s and 80s, the Clinch Mountain Boys included within their ranks country artists such as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, and Larry Sparks. In 1985, Stanley became the first recipient of the National Endowment For The Humanities’ Traditional American Music Award. He forged on into the 90s, adding his son Ralph Stanley II to the line-up of the Clinch Mountain Boys. In 1992, Stanley recorded the all-star 2-CD set Saturday Night & Sunday Morning with artists such as Dwight Yoakam, Emmylou Harris, Patty Loveless, Alison Krauss, and George Jones. Clinch Mountain Country repeated the formula, with additional input from Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Vince Gill and Jim Lauderdale among others. Stanley’s music received another unexpected boost in the new millennium, when he was featured singing an a cappella recording of ‘O Death’ on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? The album unexpectedly topped the US country charts and achieved platinum sales, leading to a number of spin-off albums and an attendant tour.

In 2004, The Ralph Stanley Museum & Traditional Mountain Music Center was opened in Clintwood, Virginia. In 2008, Stanley emerged to record a radio spot for presidential candidate Barack Obama to aid the Democrat's efforts in West Virginia.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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