Dr. Ralph Stanley: 1927-2016

Dr. Ralph Stanley
Dr. Ralph Stanley

Virginia and bluegrass lost a lost a legend Thursday night. Ralph Edmund Stanley, “Dr. Ralph,” died from skin cancer at age 89.

The man from Spraddle Creek in Dickenson County first played a banjo, given to him by his mother, in church at 11.

After serving in the Amy in World War II, Stanley and his older brother Carter formed The Stanley Brothers, but changed their name to The Clinch Mountain Boys after Clinch Valley Insurance Company sponsored a 15 minute show on radio station WNVA.

Reported Nathan Stanley on Facebook Thursday night:

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 and on stage, 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.

Carter died in 1966 and Ralph continued with The Clinch Mountain Boys, a band that gave musicians like Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Junior Blankenship and others a place in Appalachian music history.

“They sounded just exactly like the Stanley Brothers,” Ralph said when meeting Skaggs and Whitley, who were 16 and 17 at the time.  “I hired ’em to give ’em a chance.”

He became a doctor at least twice in his career, including an honorary doctorate form Yale.

I had the pleasure to interview and photograph Dr. Stanley over the years.




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