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Last of the First Generation: Dr. Ralph Stanley Dies at 89

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Dr. Ralph StanleyBill Monroe. Flatt & Scruggs. The Stanley Brothers. Ralph Stanley was the last man standing, carrying the torch for the original pioneers of bluegrass music alone since the death of Earl Scruggs in the spring of 2012. Today, June 23, 2016, "Dr. Ralph," as he was known, died at his home in the same mountains of southwestern Virginia where he was born in February 1927. Ralph Stanley was 89 years old.

Dr. Stanley had been battling cancer and his family had indicated recently that he was in ill health. He was preceded in death by his brother and musical partner, Carter Stanley, who died in 1966. Dr. Stanley's son, Ralph Stanley II, recently took over as lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Clinch Mountain Boys. The torch was passed on keeping Stanley's music and traditions alive and in good hands.

This video features Ralph Stanley with Carter Stanley and the late George Shuffler on guitar with "How Mountain Girls Can Love."

"My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr. Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus just a few minutes ago. He went peacefully in his sleep due to a long, horrible battle with Skin Cancer. I feel so lost and so alone right now. He was my world, and he was my everything. He was always there for me no matter what. I just cannot get a grip on this. My Papaw was loved by millions of fans from all around the world, and he loved all of you. If he was singing snd on sage, he was happy. That's why I did so much to make it possible for him to travel in the last two years. Because he wanted to. Please keep me and my family in your prayers. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to face in my life. The only thing that gives me peace, is knowing he is in paradise and I'll see my best friend again. I love you papaw with all of my heart. As long as I live and breathe, your legacy will never die. You will forever be in my heart."
  ~Nathan Stanley, Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

There is no doubt that Ralph Stanley was a legend. His music spanned decades and generations and over a half century. From his early beginnings until just recently, bluegrass and mountain music fans have gather to hear him perform. In 2000, his work in O Brother Where Art Thou resurrected awareness of this legend with "O Death", a song that became synonymous with Ralph Stanley.

Whether performing with his brother Carter, or in his solo career, Stanley remained true to his Mountain Music in all of its forms. It was his love for the music that kept him based in his roots rather than moving on to the big cities of the music. Born and raised in the hills of Virginia, it was those hills that held him, his heart and his music.

Both Ralph and his brother Carter Stanley were inducted into the IBMA Hall of Fame in 1992. Their induction award says:

Two eminent first generation figures in bluegrass music, Carter and Ralph Stanley were reared on isolated Smith Ridge in southwest Virginia's mountainous Dickenson County. They began playing professionally in late 1946 on Bristol radio station WCYB's daily "Farm and Fun Time" broadcasts. During the ensuing 20 years The Stanley Brothers and The Clinch Mountain Boys recorded more than 400 titles, comprising some of the finest authentic American music in existence. Despite changing times and musical tastes, the Stanleys are the only major early bluegrass artists to have never compromised the rigidly traditional format in their recordings. The favorite lead singer of many fans, Carter authored endearing classics such as "The White Dove" and "The Lonesome River." Following his death in 1966, younger brother Ralph, the composer of timeless songs and instrumentals such as "Clinch Mountain Backstep," launched a long and successful solo career faithful to the plaintive, soulful mountain sound that endears The Stanley Brothers' music to purists throughout the world.

Ralph's passing seals the first generation of bluegrass music. Just like Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, and others, Ralph left an indelible mark on the music. He was loved by bluegrass fans old and young and even as he aged, people still went out of their way to capture a moment of his music. He was truly the cloth that legends are cut from. May you rest in eternal peace Dr. Stanley. Thank you for all you gave to millions of people around the world.

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