Now 84 years old, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley has been performing professionally since he and his older brother Carter formed a band in their native southwestern Virginia in 1946. Between that date and 1966, when Carter died, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys became one of the most celebrated bluegrass groups in the world, rivaling in popularity such titans as Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs. After Carter's death, Stanley shifted the band's musical emphasis from hard-driving bluegrass to an older, sadder, less adorned mountain style. As a bandleader, he nourished such young and promising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, and Charlie Sizemore, all of whom eventually graduated to distinguished solo careers.
While he has long been revered by enthusiasts of folk, bluegrass, and country music, Stanley has in recent years been commanding the kind of honors due a musical original. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 2006, and in 2003, he shared with his friend Jim Lauderdale a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album. The year before that, in 2002, he won Grammy Awards for Best Country Male Vocalist Performance (beating out Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw, Lyle Lovett and Ryan Adams) and Album of the Year (for his featured role in the soundtrack of the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?). In 2001, he was the subject of an admiring profile in the New Yorker, written by novelist David Gates, who gathered material by traveling with Stanley for months. He is also the central figure in the D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus documentary Down From The Mountain (2000).
Currently over 65 years into his performing career, Stanley still maintains an active touring schedule and continues to release albums. His recent recordings include A Distant Land to Roam: Songs of the Carter Family (2006), Mountain Preacher's Child (2007), Can't You Hear the Mountains Calling (2009), and A Mother's Prayer (2011), his latest release. He also published his story - the tale of perhaps the greatest living patriarch of old-time mountain music - in his 2009 autobiography, A Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times.
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