Ralph Stanley: 1927-2016, Bluegrass Legend Dead at 89

Music News Ralph Stanley

Legendary bluegrass music banjo player Ralph Stanley died on Thursday, June 23 from complications of skin cancer. He was 89 years old, and was beloved by bluegrass aficionados all over the world.

Born and raised in Virginia, Stanley formed the Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946 with his brother. He was a pioneer in the old-time/clawhammer style of banjo playing. Many, including Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia, lauded his versions of traditional Appalachian numbers like “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and the former even joined Stanley for a remake of “Lonesome River” in 1997.

Stanley was given his honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in 1976, and is known for often being billed as “Dr. Ralph Stanley” from then onward. He played at the presidential inaugurations of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and was also given a “Living Legends” award from the Library of Congress.

In 2000, his a capella version of the hymn “O Death” from the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Are Thou? soundtrack was released. The soundtrack rocketed onto and up the charts, topping the Billboard 200, in addition to being number one on the country album and soundtrack charts.

Ralph Stanley had no shortage of accomplishments over his life, and he will be dearly missed by all of us at Paste. Find Paste Cloud audio of Stanley’s 1968 Newport Folk Festival performance below.

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