More than 200 songs and instrumentals, some co-written with Carter Stanley and others

  • “Big Tilda”
  • “The Darkest Hour is Just Before Dawn”
  • “A Few More Seasons”
  • “Going Up Home To Live in Green Pastures”
  • “Hard Times”
  • “I’m Lonesome Without You”
  • “I’m Lost, I’ll Never Find the Way”
  • “Let Me Love You One More Time”
  • “Wonderful World Outside”

Early Influences

  • Lucy Smith Stanley (mother)
  • Primitive Baptist Universalist Church
  • “Fiddling” Arthur Smith
  • J.E. and Wade Mainer
  • Snuffy and Hoke Jenkins
  • Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys
  • Earl Scruggs

Came to Fame With

The Stanley Brothers, 1946-1966

Performed With

  • The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, 1946-1966
  • Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, 1967-present

Led the Way

  • Co-led the second band to achieve commercial success playing the new (and as yet unnamed) style of bluegrass
  • A major contributor to the “mountain” and “lonesome” sounds of bluegrass
  • Instrumental Group of the Year, Nashville Disc Jockey’s Convention, 1955
  • First bluegrass band to play the prestigious Newport Folk Festival, in 1959
  • First bluegrass act to record a cappella gospel hymns, 1971
  • Honorary doctorate in Music, Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tennessee, 1976
  • Bluegrass Hall of Fame, 1992
  • Grand Ole Opry member, 2000-present
  • National Heritage Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1984
  • “Living Legend” award, Library of Congress, 2000

By the Way

  • As a child, was too bashful to sing and play in front of others. Performed in the kitchen for neighbors sitting in the living room.
  • Dry sense of humor and a practical joker. Once sent a novice sideman to fire his brother Carter from the Stanley Brothers.
  • Filled in with Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys briefly after banjoist Rudy Lyle was drafted. A bad auto wreck in 1951 sidelined his career until the Stanley Brothers reunited.
  • Active in regional Democratic politics. Ran unsuccessfully for Clerk of Courts and Commissioner of Revenue in Dickenson County, Virginia, 1970. Served on the Dickenson County School Board. Recorded a radio spot for the Obama campaign, 2008.
  • Honorary chairman of the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s initial campaign, “Building on a Legacy,” 1994.
  • Nationally lionized in the wake of the movie “O Brother Where Art Thou” (2000) and the “Down From the Mountain Tour” (2001-2002), but continued to live and drive a Jaguar on mountain roads near his remote childhood home.

From the Archives

“When I got out of the army I was a’gonna train for a veterinary – what I had in mind to. Decided different. Carter mostly decided for me.”
The Ralph Stanley Story: An Interview with Fred Bartenstein,” Muleskinner News, March, 1972.
“[When I decided to reform the Clinch Mountain Boys after Carter’s death] there wasn’t too much else I was qualified to do… I got letters by the hundreds from fans asking me to, and that encouraged me. I didn’t know much else to do, except going down to labor and hard work, and I never did like that… I wanted to keep as near as I could the same sound, but I guess maybe it didn’t. Sort of… I don’t know what you would call it: a lonesomer sound… a mountain sound, or something.”
“The Ralph Stanley Story: An Interview with Fred Bartenstein,” Muleskinner News, March, 1972.
“[I’d like to be remembered] as a fella that give the best of my life to bluegrass music; done my best to do it the right way [and] never lower the name down… [of] a music that I respect and love.”
Interview with Barry Willis in America’s Music: Bluegrass, 1989.