Bluegrass Icon Ralph Stanley Dies

Bluegrass Icon Ralph Stanley Dies

June 24, 2016

Bluegrass icon Ralph Stanley died Wednesday, June 23, 2016, at the age of 89 in his Virginia home after a long battle with skin cancer.

Known for his haunting high tenor voice, the singer began his musical career after returning from World War II.  He and his brother Carter, performed as the Stanley Brothers up until Carter's death in 1966.  Afterward, Ralph joined the Clinch Mountain Boys and he became a staple of the bluegrass festival scene - often performing 250 shows a year.

But it was the release of the soundtrack for the O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie that thrust Stanley into the mainstream.  His raw, unflinching performance of "Oh Death" earned him two Grammys -- including one for best male country vocal performance.  

Watch a live performance of "Oh Death" in the clip above.

While Stanley was best known for his voice, he was also a respected banjo player and was admired by musicians and performers beyond the bluegrass genre.

Celebrities took to Twitter to share their memories and condolences. 

RFD-TV’s bluegrass musician, Ronnie Reno, grew up around Ralph Stanley who performed regularly on his father's TV show and frequently guest hosted. Stanley also made appearances on Reno’s Old Time Music Festival in the late 90’s where he performed “Little Maggie,” “Water Lilly,” and “Mountain Folks.”

Reno and Stanley stayed in touch over the years after his father passed. “My dad and Ralph were two pioneers of an art form, bluegrass music. They took a five string stringed banjo and made it work. It’s incredible what he has left us and of course, his music is a universal language. It will be with us long after today.” 

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