Ralph Stanley (1927– )

Updated: March 01, 2011

Bluegrass singer, banjo player, and bandleader.

Following the death of Carter Stanley in December 1966, Ralph Stanley continued playing the kind of music exemplified by the Stanley Brothers and their band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. Stanley’s new band, as before named the Clinch Mountain Boys, included former members of the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers, Curly Ray Cline and Melvin Goins, and a young guitarist from Ohio’s Appalachian migrant community, Larry Sparks, together with longtime Clinch Mountain Boy George Shuffler. By February 1967, Stanley and his band began recording for both the King and Jalyn labels. With the rising popularity of bluegrass festivals, this Stanley aggregation achieved greater commercial success than the original Stanley Brothers had attained.

Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys re-created much of the musical sound identified with the Stanley Brothers, featuring heavy emphasis on fiddle, lead guitar, and Stanley’s own banjo, together with “high lonesome” solo and harmony vocals. Although Goins, Shuffler, and Sparks had left by 1970, Cline stayed with the band until retiring in 1994. Other musicians who have played with the Clinch Mountain Boys include bassist Jack Cooke and such lead singers as Roy Lee Centers, Keith Whitley, Ricky Skaggs, Charlie Sizemore, Ernie Thacker, and Ralph Stanley II. The elder Ralph Stanley and his band have recorded prolifically, mostly for the Charlottesville, Virginia–based Rebel label, ultimately surpassing the total number of studio recordings made by the Stanley Brothers.

As the twentieth century came to a close, Ralph Stanley easily ranked as the leading active figure in bluegrass music. Two albums recorded in the 1990s, Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and Clinch Mountain Country, paid tribute to Stan- ley’s influence on younger musicians. Among other awards, Stanley received a National Heritage Fellowship and an honorary doctorate from Lincoln Memorial University and was been inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Honor. In January 2000, he and his band became official members of the Grand Ole Opry. Two years later Stanley won a Grammy Award for his a cappella performance of the traditional song “O Death,” featured on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie soundtrack.

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"Ralph Stanley," Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 2017, Encyclopedia of Appalachia. 29 Mar 2017 <http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=194>

APA Style

"Ralph Stanley." (2017) In Encyclopedia of Appalachia, Retrieved March 29, 2017, from Encyclopedia of Appalachia: http://www.encyclopediaofappalachia.com/entry.php?rec=194