Stanley Brothers & Country Music Hall of Fame by Jeanie Stanley
I’ve been asked quite a lot why the Stanley Brothers haven’t been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. I don’t honestly know why and your guess is as good as mine.
I do know why they should be in there. I always figured if the guitar that my father, Carter, played for the majority of his career and the banjo that my Uncle Ralph favored for 20 years could be accepted & forever after be displayed in the Country Music Hall of Fame, then the Stanley Brothers themselves deserved their rightful place in that famed hallowed Hall.
Carter Stanley was born August 27, 1925, in Big Spraddle, VA, to Lucy Jane and Lee Stanley. Two years later, along came brother Ralph Stanley. The brothers learned to pick and sing at a young age by making instruments out of what they could find around them. Their mother, Lucy, and father, Lee, taught them many ole-timey mountain ballads and hymns. Carter learned a few chords on the guitar from the mailman and Ralph learned to play claw-hammer style banjo from his mother, Lucy. The brothers learned about life the hard way, mostly by the events going on around them in southwest Virginia.
In 1946, together they formed the legendary Stanley Brothers duo. Carter was outgoing and was very much a people person and Ralph, being quite shy, stayed in the background, being equally as talented as his elder brother, but content to let Carter run the show. Carter & Ralph Stanley were the second band after the late, great Bill Monroe to play ole-time folk/country music. They sang the songs of Bill Monroe, the Carter Family and Wade Mainer & His Mountaineers at first. Then Carter began to write his own material and soon after, Ralph followed suit and their songs were quick to become classics.
They never hit it big or made a lot of money. They struggled and there was a time in the 1950’s when they had to quit the music business and get jobs in the car manufacturing industry just to make ends meet. Their passion for the music & love for the people who came from near & far to hear them is what drove them both and brought them back to it. They had one European tour that they traveled with several other musicians in their career. Carter was already making plans by this time to get a bus so that the traveling would be a little easier for them. Life was hard on the road with none of the luxuries that many of the bands today have. On December 1, 1966, Carter Stanley passed away. Ralph was devastated and after much encouragement and careful thought, he decided to carry on with their music. He knew that’s what his brother would have wanted him to do.
To sum it up, the songs written by Carter & Ralph Stanley and the way in which the brothers sang them on stage and recorded, (basically, their music itself) says it all. The haunting harmonies, unbelievable melodies and the emotional delivery of them are unlike that of any other artist, duo, trio or band that has come before or since. They left a lasting mark in a short period of time. Their strongest instruments were their voices.
In the December 2000 movie, ‘O’Brother, Where Art Thou?’ Carter’s arrangement of ‘I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow’ and Ralph’s version of ‘O’ Death’ spurred a new generation on to ‘Roots Music.’ And new life was breathed into very old music. Coincidence? Probably not. People seemed to be starved for this sound. The music of the Stanley Brothers and the music of a stellar lineup of country/bluegrass artists took the world by storm shortly thereafter. Phenomenal record sales and several Grammy’s proved that. I believe people still yearn for this ole sound. Chris Stapleton, a rising star in Nashville today, with roots neck deep in bluegrass, is living proof.
The Stanley Brothers have influenced artists of not only bluegrass music but that of country and other genres, as well. Their music is as fresh today as it was the day they sang it. They helped build the very foundation which is known as traditional country music today. Country music would not be what it is today without the effect the songs of Carter & Ralph Stanley had on the world. Artists of all genres continue to this day to record their songs. The Stanley Brothers, though gone, are definitely not forgotten. Their music continues to speak to us.
It was Ralph Stanley’s last request that he and Brother Carter be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame together, side by side, as the Stanley Brothers, just like they started out. He told me this using those exact words in his kitchen just a few short years before he passed away. After all Carter & Ralph Stanley gave the world as the Stanley Brothers, I’m wondering when the Country Music Associations’ members will acknowledge their contributions. There’s no time like the present to rectify this oversight made by the CMA. What do you think?
The Stanley Brothers – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Carter Stanley – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ralph Stanley – From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Carter Stanley – International Bluegrass Music Museum
Stanley Brothers Songs – Bluegrass Lyrics.com
The Stanley Brothers – Spotify
Dr. Ralph Stanley’s 48th Annual Hills of Home Festival Memorial Day Weekend May 24 – May 26, 2018