Bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley passed away on June 23 from difficulties with skin cancer. He was 89.
The news was confirmed by Stanley’s nephew, Nathan in a Facebook post, who revealed the elder Stanley died peacefully in his sleep.
“My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr. Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus,” wrote Nathan. “I feel so lost and so alone right now. He was my world, and he was my everything. He was always there for me no matter what. I just cannot get a grip on this.”
Ralph Stanley was born on Feb. 25, 1927, in a southwest Virginia coal-mining town. His mother played the banjo and his father sometimes sang traditional songs like “Man of Constant Sorrow,” according to a statement by the publicist. In 1946, Ralph and his brother Carter formed the Clinch Mountain Boys.
“The Stanleys created a distinctive three-part harmony that combined the lead vocal of Carter with Ralph’s tenor and an even higher part sung by bandmate Pee Wee Lambert. Carter’s romantic songwriting professed a deep passion for the rural landscape, but also reflected on lonesomeness and personal losses,” the statement said.
The pair played folk and bluegrass festivals during the ’60s as the folk movement began to take off. However, after the death of Carter in 1966 from liver disease, Ralph wasn’t sure would continue as a musician. It was Carter who had served as the lead vocalist, songwriter, and front man—Ralph was more reserved.
“Within weeks of his passing, I got phone calls and letters and telegrams and they all said don’t quit. They said, ‘We’ve always been behind you and Carter, but now we’ll be behind you even more because we know you’ll need us,'” Stanley told The Associated Press in 2006.
Stanley changed the lineup of Clinch Mountain Boys, adding Ray Cline, vocalist Larry Sparks, and Melvin Goins, as well as Jack Cooke throughout the years.
Stanley’s accolades include: an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee in 1976, adopting the title, Dr. Ralph Stanley; a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in 2002 and a Grammy for best bluegrass album for “Lost in the Lonesome Pines”; “Living Legends” medal from the Library of Congress. Stanley performed at the inaugurations of both U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
He is survived by his wife Jimmie Stanley—they would have celebrated their 48th wedding anniversary on July 2. Stanley is also survived by his children Lisa Stanley Marshall, Tonya Armes Stanley, and Ralph Stanley II; 7 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.