Legendary American bluegrass artist, Dr. Ralph Edmund Stanley, was internationally known for his unique, innovative style of singing and banjo playing. He was born and raised right here in Virginia, and to his last day Ralph Stanley called Dickenson County his beloved home.
Despite little musical influence as a child, Ralph Stanley took up banjo playing as a teen. His mother bought his first banjo and began teaching him how to play “clawhammer” style when he was around fifteen years old.
Ralph Stanley’s musical career didn’t kick into full swing until after he returned from a brief stint in the US Army in 1945. After considering a career as a veterinarian, he decided to join his guitar-playing older brother, Carter Stanley, and start a band called Clinch Mountain Boys. The band’s style was influenced by traditional mountain bluegrass music, singing styles of the Primitive Baptist Church, and Carter Family harmonies.
The duo soon caught the eye of a Columbia Records executive who signed them on as the Stanley Brothers. In the late 1950s, the brothers made a transition to King Records and continued performing as The Stanley Brothers until 1966 when Ralph’s brother passed away.
After overwhelming encouragement from fans and close friends, Ralph Stanley made the tough decision to keep performing on his own after his brother’s passing. He eventually paired up with Larry Sparks, Roy Lee Centers, and Charlie Sizemore to bring back the Clinch Mountain Boys, and the band later welcomed Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitely, who were just teens at the time.
Ralph Stanley’s musical life continued prosperously, and in 1976, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University, spawning the popular title “Dr. Ralph Stanley.” He was inducted into the International Music Hall of Honor in 1992, and the Grand Ole Opry in 2000, the same year in which his work was featured in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? - for which he won a 2002 Grammy Award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.
After considering retirement and even scheduling a farewell tour in 2014, Ralph Stanley later announced a welcome decision to continue gracing the country with his beloved, signature style of music.
On June 23, 2016, Dr. Ralph Stanley passed away while battling complications from skin cancer. He will forever be remembered in the hearts and minds of his family and fans, and his legend lives on through his music, which will inspire generations of artists to come.