Ralph Stanley

Ralph Stanley

Ralph Stanley

Stanley’s life spans the history of recorded bluegrass and country music, but his high, lonesome voice encompasses human suffering throughout time. Born in 1927, Stanley and his brother and first singing partner, Carter, grew up in the mountains of southwestern Virginia where Stanley learned old-time music in a Primitive Baptist church and from his mother, who picked the banjo clawhammer style.

As a young man he often doubted his future as a musician, farming and working briefly in a sawmill, before committing himself to the music business. He stuck with it after Carter’s alcohol-accelerated death in 1966 even though his career did not prove lucrative until very late in life when he was featured on the O Brother, Where Art Thou’ soundtrack. He won the 2001 Grammy for best male country vocal performance, besting the likes of young commercial country star Tim McGraw, of whom Stanley writes, “[W]ouldn’t know a real country song if it kicked him in the ass.

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