Ralph Stanley is the subject of a new exhibit—Ralph Stanley: Voice From On High—at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The new exhibit opens on July 13 and runs through Jan. 6, 2019.
Ralph, one of the stalwarts of bluegrass music and an important figure on the scene since starting the Clinch Mountain Boys band in 1946, died in June 2016 at the age of 89. Born in southwest Virginia in 1927, Ralph gained his earliest fame in the Stanley Brothers duo, which he formed with his brother Carter. The Stanley Brothers were one of the first bluegrass acts to earn national acclaim. Ralph forged his own popularity when he went solo in 1966, following Carter’s death from complications of cirrhosis. He re-formed the Clinch Mountain Boys, which at one time included a pair of young prodigies, Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley, both of whom cite Ralph as their main influence.
A consistent figure on the bluegrass concert circuit, Ralph gained an entirely new audience with the release of the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? He sang a chilling a cappella version of the Appalachian dirge “O Death” in the movie, easily one of the highlights of the award-winning musical soundtrack. Ralph later won a Grammy award for Best Male Country Vocal Performance with that song. He often noted that the award “put me in a different category.” Ralph won a second Grammy in 2003 for Lost in the Lonesome Pines, a bluegrass album he recorded with Jim Lauderdale.
Highlights of the new exhibition include:
- Gibson RB-2 banjo with pearloid fretboard and headstock overlay purchased by Stanley from a Virginia coal miner. He used it extensively early in the Stanley Brothers’ career.
- Modified 1957 Martin D-28 with custom pickguard and D-45 neck guitar used by Carter Stanley to write the bluegrass standard “The White Dove.”
- Pagano West western-style suit and Daniali USA shirt with rounded collar and key-shaped rhinestone decorative applique worn by Stanley.
- Hand-tooled leather guitar strap used by Larry Sparks with the Clinch Mountain Boys. He was with the group from 1966 to 1969, when he left to pursue a solo career.
- Microphones used on the Farm and Fun Time Hour, on Bristol, Virginia, radio station WCYB in the 1940s.
- Radio transmitter controls and reading monitor used in the mid-1950s to help WCYB broadcast its 10,000-watt signal throughout the southern Appalachians. The signal reached five states, across valleys and mountains.
Check out some photos from the private viewing of the exhibit on July 12, courtesy of photographer Jason Davis/Getty Images.
main photo courtesy Country Music Hall of Fame