Ralph Stanley: Long Road to the Mountaintop

Garden & Gun excerpts

                                                           Jim Herrington
Stanley is eighty-five now, and he has put out some two hundred albums. His high lonesome tenor, exuding world-weariness, has been called “one of the most expressive voices in the history of American song.” It’s also one of the most recorded. Should a sculptor ever decide to carve a Mount Rushmore of bluegrass, Stanley will be a shoo-in. But mainstream celebrity did not come to him until he was in his seventies, following the release of the Coen brothers’ Depression-era, Odyssey-inspired movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? in 2000. The film’s inspired sound track, produced by T Bone Burnett, went multiplatinum, and Stanley’s solo a cappella rendition of the traditional Appalachian lament “O Death” stole the show, winning him a Grammy for best male country vocal performance...

Unflagging, Stanley went on to nurse the next generation of bluegrass and country standouts. He hired Larry Sparks, and later Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley, to join the Clinch Mountain Boys. More recently, Ralph and Jimmi’s son, Ralph Stanley II, whose voice and guitar chops hark back to his uncle Carter, played for the band and then went solo, earning Grammy nominations of his own.

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