Atlanta Music Scene

Atlanta music, concerts and entertainment

Ralph Stanley, bluegrass legend, has died

This photo taken Jan. 16, 2012, shows Ralph Stanley sitting on the couch in the living room of the Stanley home outside of Coeburn, Va., Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. Ralph Stanley died Thursday, June 23, 2016. He was 89. (Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

Bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley died Thursday from what his publicist described as “difficulties with skin cancer.”

Stanley, 89, was born and raised in southwest Virginia, where he and his brother Carter formed the Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946.

In 1951, they popularized “Man of Constant Sorrow,” which was later recorded by Bob Dylan. Stanley’s unique style of banjo playing earned him the nickname as the Doctor of Bluegrass.

When Carter died of liver disease in 1966, Stanley, admittedly withdrawn and shy, was concerned about continuing his music career.

"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.

After a storied career that included frequent performances at folk and bluegrass festivals, Stanley was introduced to a new generation of fans in 2000 with his a cappella dirge, “O Death,” from the Coen Brothers’ film, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The soundtrack topped the Billboard 200 chart.

In 2002, Stanley won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance – against contemporary artists including Ryan Adams and Tim McGraw – while the “O Brother” soundtrack, produced by T Bone Burnett, nabbed the album of the year Grammy.

Stanley continued to play regularly even with health issues. He last played Atlanta in December with a show at Eddie's Attic.

Upon news of his death Thursday night, many musicians took to Twitter to share their condolences.

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Recommended for you

Most read

  1. 1 Women accused in Applebee’s attack granted bond
  2. 2 Exclusive: Phaedra Parks sells her Chastain Park home for $950,000
  3. 3 Hawks add ‘high-character’ Jeremy Lin, continue to seek tr

About the Author

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for Atlanta Music Scene blog on

More from AJC