NASHVILLE, Tenn. (CelebrityAccess) — Bluegrass and Appalachian music legend Ralph Stanley died on Thursday. He was 89.
According to his publicist, Stanley died from complications of skin cancer.
A native of Virginia, Stanley and his brother Carter formed the Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946, performing an array of traditional and gospel music, to which they added elements drawn Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe's developing bluegrass style to the form.
Despite some initial success, the early 1950s were difficult for the Stanleys, with both brothers even leaving the music world for a steady job in an auto factory in Dearborn for a period. However, the folk movement helped buoy demand for traditional music and the Stanley Brothers were soon touring the country playing folk and bluegrass festivals during the '60s, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and 1964.
The group suffered a setback in 1966 when lead vocalist and songwriter Carter Stanley died from liver disease, leading the typically reserved Ralph to question the future viability of the group.
"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.
Following Carter's death, Ralph reformed the Clinch Mountain Boys band to include Ray Cline, vocalist Larry Sparks and Melvin Goins. The new formulation started to move away from the bluegrass sound and returned to their mountain roots, with Stanley adopting a distinctive a Capella singing style influenced by the Primitive Baptist church where he was raised.
Stanley's career was reinvigorated in 2000 after producer T-Bone Burnett used his music in the soundtrack of the hit Coen Brothers film "O' Brother, Where Art Thou.' Stanley's haunting a Cappella recording of 'O Death' won him a Grammy in 2002 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance, and it introduced him to a new generation of fans. He won a second Grammy for "Lost in the Lonesome Pines" a bluegrass album he recorded with Jim Lauderdale.
He said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2002 that younger people were coming to see his shows and hear his "old time music," and was enjoying the belated recognition.
"I wish it had come 25 years sooner," he said. "I am still enjoying it, but I would have had longer to enjoy it."
Despite health problems, he continued to record and tour into his 80s, often performing with his son Ralph Stanley II on guitar and his grandson Nathan on mandolin.
Other accolades for Stanley included membership in the Grand Ole Opry, membership in International Bluegrass Music Hall, and a National Medal of Arts. He was named as a Library of Congress Living Legend in 2000 and was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2014. – Staff Writers