The Stanley Brothers – Carter and Ralph – were born in the mountains of southwestern Virginia in Dickenson County. Carter was born on August 27, 1925 and Ralph was born on February 25, 1927. They learned most of their early music at home. Their mother played the claw hammer banjo and their father was a gifted singer of old time songs. The boys acquired instruments in their early teen years and began playing the music of old-time performers they heard on the radio.
After WWII, Carter and Ralph organized their band, which became known as The Stanley Brothers and The Clinch Mountain Boys. They performed briefly over radio station WNVA in Norton, Virginia in 1946 and then moved to Bristol to headline WCYB’s Farm & Fun Time broadcast. They remained on this station for 12 years.
While in Bristol they made their first recordings for an independent label called Rich-R-Tone. In 1949 they began a four-year association with Columbia Records. This is where many of their well-known songs like “The White Dove”, “The Lonesome River”, and “The Fields Have turned Brown”, were recorded. In the 1950s they went to Mercury Records and recorded the 1955 recording of “Angel Band” used in the movie O Brother! Where Art Thou?
In 1958 the Stanley Brothers moved to Florida to headline the Suwannee River Jamboree, a weekly Saturday evening program. They were soon sponsored by Jim Walter Homes and were syndicated on television and radio throughout the southeast for several years. Their recordings during this time appeared on the Starday and King labels. While at King the use of the lead guitar became a trademark of the Stanley sound that endures till this day.
The duo came to an end on December 1, 1966 with the passing of Carter Stanley. Ralph Stanley has continued with a highly successful solo career that includes multiple Grammy awards, Congressional and Presidential awards, an honorary doctorate of arts degree and recognition in his home state as Virginian of the Year. Today Ralph is regarded as the patriarch of bluegrass music, an icon in the music industry and an influence to many of today’s artists. At age 82 he still continues to tour with The Clinch Mountain Boys, taking his old time mountain style of bluegrass music all over the world. Ralph Stanley passed away in 2016.