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Who Ralph Stanley
What Ralph Stanley, bluegrass legend, dead at 89
When June 23, 2016
Where Nashville, TN

Bluegrass legend Dr. Ralph Stanley died Thursday night after a battle with skin cancer, according to a Facebook post by his grandson, Nathan Stanley.

Dr. Stanley was 89 years old and a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. After receiving an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University in 1976 (and another from Yale in 2014), he was known to fans worldwide as "Doctor Ralph."

"You don't replace a Ralph Stanley," said Eric Gibson of bluegrass duo The Gibson Brothers. "His voice sounds like it has been here since time began."

"He sang mountain music, and he took what he did very seriously," said singer-songwriter Paul Burch, who recorded with Dr. Stanley and opened for him on a UK tour. "I think he wanted other people to hear the beauty of the region that he came from."

The mid-1950s were tough times for the Stanley Brothers. At one point, they took a break from music, moved to Michigan and found work at the Ford plant in Dearborn. But soon Mercury Records came calling, and by August 1953, Carter and Ralph Stanley were Nashville-bound.

The recordings the Stanley Brothers made for Mercury are considered by many to be their best work, and several of their songs, including "I'm Lonesome Without You" and "Memories of Mother," are bluegrass classics that can be heard at festivals and jam sessions nationwide.

When their contract with Mercury expired, the Stanley Brothers went to King Records in Cincinnati, a label that boasted artists from James Brown to Cowboy Copas.

Several Clinch Mountain Boys who played with Dr. Stanley went on to have successful solo careers, including Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs and Larry Sparks.

Dr. Stanley's career was rejuvenated in 2000 when his music was featured on the multiplatinum soundtrack of the film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" His eerie, captivating recording of "O Death" won a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and it introduced him to a new generation of fans. He won a second Grammy for "Lost in the Lonesome Pines," a bluegrass album he recorded with Jim Lauderdale. "He was the king of mountain soul and a force of nature," said Lauderdale. "He left such a huge mark on the world. I think he really stands among the greatest musicians in any genre."

"It was pretty overwhelming," said Miller of the recording process. "There was no one that wasn't in awe of his voice. He's a soul singer. He got more out of one syllable than most of us get in a lifetime."

In his autobiography, Stanley wrote that when he celebrated his 50th anniversary in the music business, Bob Dylan sent him a telegram. Its final line: "You will live forever."

Funeral arrangements are unknown at this time.

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Contact Juli Thanki
The Tennessean


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