Entertainment & Arts

Ralph Stanley, US bluegrass pioneer, dies aged 89

Ralph Stanley in 2012 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Stanley, pictured in 2012, continued performing into his eighties

Ralph Stanley, the US singer who, with his brother Carter, helped popularise the bluegrass genre, has died aged 89.

The banjo-playing musician died after "a long... battle with skin cancer", his grandson Nathan wrote on Facebook.

Formed in 1946, The Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys enjoyed success with songs like I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow and The Lonesome River.

In later life, Stanley won new fans when his work featured in the Coen brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou?.

The soundtrack to the 2000 film - which included Stanley's track O Death - sold millions and won the Grammy award for album of the year in 2002.

Stanley won a Grammy himself that year for best male country vocal performance, beating the likes of Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash.

Born and raised in Big Spraddle, Virginia, the Stanley siblings were taught to sing bluegrass and play the banjo by their parents Lee and Lucy.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The musician, seated front with banjo in 1964, first enjoyed success with brother Carter

The brothers would later tour the US playing folk and bluegrass festivals, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and 1964.

When Carter died of liver disease in 1966, Ralph considered quitting but was persuaded to continue by messages from fans.

He went on to perform at the inaugurations of Presidents Carter and Clinton, and received the National Medal of Arts from President George W Bush.

Despite health problems, Stanley continued to record and tour into his 80s, often performing with his son Ralph Stanley II on guitar and Nathan on mandolin.

He died on Thursday at his home in Sandy Ridge, Virginia, and is survived by Jimmie, his wife of 47 years.

Actor and banjo enthusiast Steve Martin is among those to have marked his death on Twitter, describing him as "one of the last remaining original bluegrass artistes".

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