Member Since 2000
If Ralph Stanley were to have a motto that expressed his musical philosophy, it might well be “Back to the Future,” for he’s earned enduring fame with a “mountain music” style that hearkens back to the simple, stark sounds of the string bands and church singing of his childhood.
Born in the Clinch Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, Ralph was taught the basics of the old clawhammer style of banjo playing as a youngster by his mother. When he returned from military service in Germany at the end of World War II, he and his older brother Carter formed their Clinch Mountain Boys, making their first records in 1947. Though they struggled to make a living, the Stanley Brothers’ 1950s and early 1960s recordings introduced dozens of classics into the bluegrass repertoire and made their mournful duet one of the music’s most influential sounds.
After Carter’s death in 1966, Ralph began to highlight an older, more haunting sound that gave greater emphasis to his craggy tenor singing and clawhammer-influenced banjo playing. As a bandleader, he nourished such young and promising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, and Charlie Sizemore, all of whom eventually graduated to distinguished solo careers.
While enthusiasts of folk, bluegrass, and country music have long revered him, Ralph has lately been commanding the kind of honors due a musical original. In 2003, he shared with his friend Jim Lauderdale a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. The year before that, he won Grammys for Best Country Male Vocalist Performance and Best Country Album, for his part in the O Brother, Where Art Thou? collection.
In January 2000, Ralph became the first artist of the new millennium to join the Grand Ole Opry. He holds the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress and was the first recipient of the Traditional American Music Award from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to all these honors, Ralph was chosen to be the closing act for the 2002 Down From the Mountain Tour, a series of sold-out concerts inspired by the success of the O Brother album. In 2004, he co-headlined the Great High Mountain Tour, an amalgam of music from the O Brother and Cold Mountain films.
Despite his growing fame, Ralph Stanley still lives near the spot where he was born in a mountainous, tucked-away corner near the rugged Virginia-Tennessee border. It remains his cherished retreat from the rigors of the road and the 150-plus shows he continues to do each year.
A Mother's Prayer