This week Tom Duffee sat down with Fred Bartenstein, a local bluegrass performer, historian, and author. Together they celebrated the life of Bartenstein’s intimate friend, the musician and singer Ralph Stanley. Stanley died on June 23 at the age of 89.
Stanley was famous for his distinctive bluegrass music, an older style from the coalmining region of West Virginia, which had never been recorded before. In fact, he was reluctant to lump in his music with the broader bluegrass genre, saying, “I sing the old time mountain music. Some call it bluegrass.” A shy, intelligent child, Stanley served for a year in the military in 1945. The next year, he started performing, against the wishes of his officers, who wanted him to become a career military man. Stanley performed with his brother Carter as part of the Stanley Brothers band, which recorded with King and Columbia Records. Later in life, his song “Oh, Death” was featured prominently in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou? The broadcast version of this interview included excerpts from Stanley’s performance at Antioch College in 1960. Antioch, one of the first colleges in the country with a folk music club, was ahead of its time in showcasing folk music and other traditional styles.