Bluegrass great Ralph Stanley dead at 89

By: | Published: June 24, 2016 3:24 PM

Ralph Stanley, a pioneer of bluegrass and Appalachian music, has died following a battle with skin cancer...

In 1976, Stanley was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. (Reuters)In 1976, Stanley was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. (Reuters)

Ralph Stanley, a pioneer of bluegrass and Appalachian music, has died following a battle with skin cancer. He was 89.

His grandson Nathan, who had been touring with the banjo legend in recent years, confirmed the news on Facebook, reported RollingStone

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“My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus just a few minutes ago,” he wrote, adding, “My Papaw was loved by millions of fans from all around the world, and he loved all of you. If he was singing and on stage, he was happy.”

Born on February 25th, 1927, in Stratton, Virginia, Ralph Edmund Stanley teamed up with his guitar-playing sibling Carter in 1946 and began incorporating the folk traditions of the region and Carter Family-style harmonies into their duo the Stanley Brothers and their backing band the Clinch Mountain Boys.

Initially the Stanley Brothers performed live on radio stations in Virginia and sang Bill Monroe’s songs, but began writing and arranging their own material and recorded sessions for Columbia, Mercury and King Records that established them as key figures in the early growth of traditional bluegrass music.

Their 1951 recording of the traditional song “Man of Constant Sorrow” has been adapted and re-adapted numerous times in the following years and they found favor with the folk movement of the Sixties.

Sadly, Carter died in 1966 at 41 years old, and Ralph was forced to carry on as a solo artist.

In 1976, Stanley was awarded an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee — hence his usual “Dr” prefix.

He also performed at the inaugurations of presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and was given a National Medal of Arts and a Living Legends medal from the Library of Congress. Amazingly, he didn’t join the Grand Ole Opry until 2000.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

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