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Ralph Stanley dead: Bluegrass legend, ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ singer was 89



Ralph Stanley

This photo taken Oct. 14, 2012, shows Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys closing out the Richmond Folk Festival.

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley is dead at age 89, his grandson announced Thursday.

Stanley “went peacefully in his sleep due to a long, horrible battle with skin cancer,” Nathan Stanley, also a gospel and bluegrass musician, wrote on Facebook. “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.”

Ralph Stanley got his start after serving in the Army, forming a band called The Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946. NBC reports most people called Ralph and his brother Carter, who died in 1966 at 41, “Appalachian” and “hillbilly” musicians, but “bluegrass” hadn’t been invented yet — Ralph liked to call their sound “old-time mountain soul.”

Nevertheless, Stanley is credited with pioneering the bluegrass sound and inspiring generations of folk, country, Americana and other musicians. His version of the traditional “Man of Constant Sorrow” in 1951 has been covered numerous times, most notably for the Coen brothers’ 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Stanley won his first Grammy for his haunting, a cappella rendition of “O Death” that appeared in the film, beating out Tim McGraw, Lyle Lovett, Ryan Adams, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. The soundtrack also introduced a new generation of fans to Stanley’s music and he chronicled his career in the 2009 memoir “Man of Constant Sorrow.”

He continued performing in his 80’s, recently covering the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” for the 2012 movie “Lawless” and collaborating with Pretty Lights and LeAnn Rimes for an updated version of “Wayfaring Stranger.”

“His music will live on forever,” the Grand Ole Opry said Thursday night.

“Ugh….. like a punch to the heart. thank you God for Ralph Stanley. thoughts and prayers for his family,” Dierks Bentley added on Twitter.

According to Rolling Stone, Stanley later become known as Dr. Ralph Stanley after winning several honorary university doctorates. He was the inaugural winner of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Traditional American Music Award in 1985, inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Honor in 1992, and honored as a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress in 2000.

He is survived by his wife Jimmie, three children, seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.