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Bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley dead at 89

Del Cowie

Bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley has died at the age of 89, following complications with skin cancer. Stanley's death was confirmed by his publicist and his grandson Nathan Stanley, also a musician, who often toured with his grandfather. Nathan posted a heartfelt message on his website.

"My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr. Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus just a few minutes ago," Nathan wrote. "He went peacefully in his sleep due to a long, horrible battle with skin cancer. I feel so lost and so alone right now. He was my world, and he was my everything."

Ralph was born in Stratton, Va., in 1927 and began playing with his brother Carter in the 1940s. Ralph became known for his distinctive voice as a singer. His biographer, John Wright, once described Ralph's voice as "[giving] this old-time mysterious flavor to the singing. The voice sounds like it's coming out of the past, like a ghost or something like that."

After his brother's death in 1966, Ralph continued playing with his band the Clinch Mountain Boys and became particularly known for the recordings "Man of Constant Sorrow" and "O Death." Both songs received a revival thanks to the 2000 Coen Brothers film O Brother Where Art Thou. Ralph received an honorary doctorate of music from Lincoln Memorial University in 1976 and was inducted into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1992, while continuing to tour and record into his later years.

"My Papaw was loved by millions of fans from all around the world, and he loved all of you. If he was singing and on stage, he was happy," wrote his grandson Nathan Stanley in his statement. "That's why I did so much to make it possible for him to travel in the last two years. Because he wanted to. Please keep me and my family in your prayers. This is the hardest thing I have ever had to face in my life."