At the age of 12, a young boy by the name of Ralph Stanley was given the option by his mama - "I'll by you a pig or a banjo.The choice is yours." At the time, they both cost $5. Fortunately, for the world of music, Ralph chose banjo over livestock.

Earlier tonight, bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley died after a battle with skin cancer, according to a Facebook post by his son, Nathan Stanley.

I rarely do music posts, but Ralph truly transcended the genre of bluegrass and influenced generations of musicians. Many of today's biggest country stars grew up listening to Ralph's albums, as did their parents.

Nick Forster, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist for Colorado-based band Hot Rize notes: "[Ralph] and his brother Carter defined the classic brother duet." A vocal sound that continues in bluegrass, country, rock and even jazz today.

Born in 1927 to the hard scrabble life in coal country Virginia, Ralph went on to become a member of the Grand Ole Opry and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. After receiving an honorary Doctorate of Music from Lincoln Memorial University in 1976 (and another one from Yale in 2014), he was known to fans worldwide as "Doctor Ralph."

As Nick Forster remembers:

Ralph was one of the pioneers, an original. His singing and his banjo playing were instantly recognizable, and he had a great sense of humor and a sly grin. He was true to his native Clinch Mountains of Virginia, always preferring to sing with folks who grew up near him.
He played a lot of shows and made a lot of people happy in his lifetime! We will miss him!

I never had the chance to speak with the man but saw him perform at least half a dozen times, and watching the effortless picking and hearing that lonesome tenor always left me slack-jawed. Listen below and then buy a copy of any of Ralph Stanley's 150+ recordings to hear the banjo.

Written and posted with much love and respect,


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