Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley has died from complications from skin cancer. He was 89 years-old.
Stanley formed a group with his brother in 1946, with their backing group The Clinch Mountain Boys. He was a practitioner of the clawhammer banjo technique, commonly found in the old-time style of folk and bluegrass music. He appeared on over two dozen LPs in his lifetime. His most recent, Man of Constant Sorrow, was released in 2015, and featured an appearance from bluegrass and country revivalists Old Crow Medicine Show.
In 1976, Stanley received an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial Univeristy, often billing himself as “Dr. Ralph Stanley”. He performed at two presidential inaugurations, for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton respectively.
He was revered by many songwriters and musicians for his renditions of traditional old-time numbers, many in the Appalachain folk style. Two of these musicians were Bob Dylan and Jerry Garcia, who were both well-known advocates for old-time music, with the influence being heard in their work at most points in their careers. In 1997, Dylan and Stanley collaborated on a version of traditional song “Lonesome River”, and Dylan performed a rendition of “Man of Constant Sorrow” on his self-titled debut album from 1962.
Stanley is a true legend in the realm of bluegrass and folk music, and will be missed by all who were familiar with his work.