It is difficult, at best, to describe the impact that Ralph Stanley has had on the world of music. It is perhaps even more difficult to condense into a few paragraphs what it is that makes his voice so special and unique. The Chicago Tribune’s David Royko writes that Ralph has "a voice of heart-stopping power" that gives listeners a "chill that surges up their spines." Country artist Junior Brown said that Stanley’s voice is "what country music, bluegrass music, whatever you want to call it, is supposed to be about…It is about the feeling you can hear when Ralph sings." And the New York Times said "his lonesome tenor seems otherworldly." They are all correct. For those who still choose to doubt, we have Man Of Constant Sorrow, a collection of some of Ralph Stanley’s most-powerful songs, five of which have never been heard on CD before. That’ll do the trick. But first, a (very) abbreviated history of Ralph Stanley’s 50+ years of mountain music.
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Born February 25, 1927 in the Clinch Mountains of Dickenson County, Virginia, Ralph learned to play the banjo from his mother, Lucy. It was her inspiration, coupled with Ralph’s natural ability, which led Ralph and his older guitar-playing brother Carter to form the Stanley Brothers in 1946. They began their career on local radio stations in and around Bristol, Virginia, and were soon in demand for appearances throughout the area. Real success began when the brothers took a job at the powerful station WCYB in Bristol, where they became instant stars, working there 12 years. There were ups-and-downs over the years, of course, and they were just hitting another peak in popularity when Carter tragically died of cancer in 1966. Though the blow was great, Ralph continued on, in time becoming the very personification of traditional Appalachian mountain music. Along the way he has recorded over 150 albums, received 6 Grammy nominations, been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music, and received other awards and honors too numerous to mention. More recently, Stanley was chosen to be on the soundtrack of the Coen Brother’s new film O Brother, Where Art Thou?, where he gives a striking, acapella rendition of "Oh, Death." In fact, four of the songs covered in the movie are songs that "Dr. Ralph" put to vinyl many years ago.
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