The Stanley Brothers

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The Stanley Brothers
Label of the Stanley Brothers' single "I Hear My Savior Calling"
Label of the Stanley Brothers' single "I Hear My Savior Calling"
Background information
OriginDickenson County, Virginia, U.S.
Years active1946–1966
Past members

The Stanley Brothers were an American bluegrass duo of singer-songwriters and musicians, made up of brothers Carter Stanley (August 27, 1925 – December 1, 1966) and Ralph Stanley (February 25, 1927 – June 23, 2016).[1] Ralph and Carter performed as The Stanley Brothers with their band, The Clinch Mountain Boys, from 1946 to 1966. Ralph kept the band name when he continued as a solo artist after Carter's death, from 1967 until his own death in 2016.

Early lives[edit]

Carter and Ralph Stanley were born on a small farm in Dickenson County, Virginia. Music was a part of their lives even in their early years, and they listened to the Monroe Brothers, J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers and the Grand Ole Opry on local radio.


The brothers formed a band, the Lazy Ramblers, and performed as a duo on WJHL radio in Johnson City, Tennessee.[2] World War II interrupted their musical career, but once both brothers returned from the United States Army, they resumed their musical pursuits. They formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, in the month of November 1946[3] as the first band to copy the Monroe sound.[4] Carter played guitar and sang lead, while Ralph played banjo and sang with a strong, high tenor voice. Additional members of this early band were Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert on mandolin and Bobby Sumner on fiddle. Sumner soon was replaced by Leslie Keith.[5]

On December 26, 1946, the band began performing at radio station WCYB in Bristol, Tennessee as stalwarts of the famed Farm and Fun Time radio show.[6] They made their recording debut in September 1947 for Rich-R-Tone Records which had been founded the year before. Their records sold well, "outselling even Eddy Arnold" regionally.[7] Up to now, Ralph had been playing his banjo with two fingers on recordings and in concerts, but in 1948, he switched to the three-finger style (popularised by Earl Scruggs).[8] In March 1949, the Stanley Brothers began recording for Columbia Records.[9] During this time, Bill Monroe was not particularly fond of groups like the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs who he believed "stole" his music by copying it; they were seen as "economic threats."[10][11]

Financially hard times in the early 1950s forced the brothers to take a short break in their musical career. They began working for the Ford Motor Company in Detroit. Eventually, Monroe and the Stanley Brothers became friends, and Carter performed for several months with Bill Monroe in the summer of 1951. In August 1951, Ralph was involved in a serious automobile accident that almost ended his career.[12] Following his recovery, Carter and Ralph reunited to front their Clinch Mountain Boys.

As bluegrass music grew less popular in the late 1950s, the Stanley Brothers moved to Live Oak, Florida and headlined the weekly Suwannee River Jamboree radio show on WNER from 1958 to 1962. The three-hour show was also syndicated across the Southeast.[13] In 1966, the brothers toured Europe, and upon returning home, they continued to perform together until Carter's death in December 1966.[14]

Many years later, Ralph revived the Clinch Mountain Boys until his death in 2016. He performed with them through 2013. He recorded one last album in 2014, Side By Side, with his son, Ralph II. Among the musicians who have played in the revived Clinch Mountain Boys were Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks, Curly Ray Cline, Jack Cooke, Roy Lee Centers, Charlie Sizemore, Ray Goins, and Ralph Stanley II. Ralph's career received a big boost with his prominent role on the very successful soundtrack recording of the 2000 feature film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, which featured the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" among others.


The Stanley Brothers were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Honor in 1992. In 2005, The Barter State Theatre of Virginia premiered an original stage production, Man of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers, written by Dr. Douglas Pote.

The University Press of Mississippi published the first full-length biography of the Stanley Brothers, Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers by David W. Johnson, on February 1, 2013. The paperback edition was published March 1, 2014.

Selected recordings[edit]

Among the Stanley Brothers' best known recordings are:

  • I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow (Columbia 20816, Rec: Nov. 3, 1950, Released: May, 1951)
  • Rank Stranger
  • Angel Band (1955)
  • How Mountain Girls Can Love
  • How Far to Little Rock? (novelty)
  • Still Trying to Get to Little Rock (novelty)
  • Ridin' That Midnite Train
  • Clinch Mountain Backstep
  • She's More to Be Pitied
  • The Memory of Your Smile
  • Love Me Darlin' Just Tonight

Clinch Mountain Boys members[edit]

  • Carter Stanley (lead vocalist, steel-string guitar)
  • Ralph Stanley (banjo)
  • George Shuffler (steel-string guitar, bass)
  • Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert (mandolin)
  • Jim Williams (mandolin)
  • Curly Lambert (mandolin, steel-string guitar)
  • James Price (fiddle)
  • Robert "Bobby" Sumner (fiddle)
  • Lester Woodie (fiddle) (died 2018)[15]
  • Ralph Mayo (fiddle, steel-string guitar)
  • Chubby Anthony (fiddle)
  • Art Stamper (fiddle)
  • Joe Meadows (fiddle)
  • Paul Moon Mullins (fiddle)
  • Red Stanley (fiddle)
  • Don Miller (fiddle)
  • Vernon Derrick (fiddle, steel-string guitar)
  • Curly Ray Cline (fiddle)
  • James "Jay" Hughes (bass)
  • Ernie Newton (bass)
  • James "Chick" Stripling (bass)
  • Mike Seeger (bass)
  • Charlie Cline (steel-string guitar)
  • Bill Napier (steel-string guitar mandolin)
  • Albert Elliott (mandolin, bass, and baritone vocals) better known as Touser Murphy as his stage name
  • Larry Sparks (steel-string guitar)
  • James Alan Shelton (guitar)
  • Jack Cooke (bass)
  • John Shuffler (bass)
  • Melvin Goins (bass, steel-string guitar)
  • Johnny Bonds (bass)
  • Bill Slaughter (bass)


78 RPM[edit]

Year Title Label Number
1947 "Mother No Longer Awaits Me at Home" / "The Girl Behind the Bar" Rich-R-Tone Records 420
1948 "Little Maggie" / "The Little Glass of Wine" 423
1948 "The Rambler's Blues" / "Molly and Tenbrooks" Rich-R-Tone 418
1949 "The Jealous Lover" / "Our Darling's Gone" Rich-R-Tone 435
1949 "The White Dove" / "Gathering Flowers for the Master's Bouquet" Columbia Records 20577
1949 "Little Glass of Wine" / "Let Me Be Your Friend" Columbia Records 20590
1949 "The Angels are Singing (in Heaven Tonight)" / "It's Never Too Late" Columbia Records 20617
1949 "A Vision of Mother" / "Have You Someone (in Heaven Awaiting)" Columbia Records 20647
1950 "The Old Home" / "The Fields Have Turned Brown" Columbia Records 20667
1950 "Death is Only a Dream" / "I Can Tell You the Time" Rich-R-Tone 466
1950 "I Love No One But You" / "Too Late to Cry" Columbia Records 20697
1950 "We'll Be Sweethearts in Heaven" / "The Drunkard's Hell" Columbia Records 20735
1950 "Hey! Hey! Hey!" / "Pretty Polly" Columbia Records 20770
1951 "The Lonesome River" / "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow" Columbia Records 20816
1952 "Sweetest Love" / "The Wandering Boy" Columbia Records 20953
1952 "Little Girl and the Dreadful Snake" / "Are You Waiting Just for Me?" Rich-R-Tone 1055
1952 "Little Glass of Wine" / "Little Birdie" Rich-R-Tone 1056
1953 "This Weary Heart You Stole Away" / "I'm Lonesome Without You" Mercury Records 70217
1953 "Say Won't You Be Mine" / "Our Last Goodbye" Mercury Records 70270
1954 "I Long to See the Old Folks" / "A Voice from on High" Mercury Records 70340
1954 "Memories of Mother" / "Could You Love Me One More Time" Mercury Records 70400
1954 "Poison Lies" / "Dickson County Breakdown" Mercury Records 70437-X45
1954 "Blue Moon of Kentucky" / "I Just Got Wise" Mercury 70453-X45
1954 "Calling from Heaven" / "Harbor of Love" Mercury Records 70483-X45
1955 "Hard Times" / "I Worship You" Mercury Records 70546-X45
1955 "So Blue" / "You'd Better Get Right" Mercury Records 70612-X45
1955 "Lonesome and Blue" / "Orange Blossom Special" Mercury Records 70663-X45
1955 "I Hear My Savior Calling" / "Just a Little Talk with Jesus" Mercury Records 70718-X45
1956 "Nobody's Love Is like Mine"/ "Big Tilda" Mercury Records 70789-X45
1956 "Baby Girl" / "Say You'll Take Me Back" Mercury Records 70886-X45
1957 "I'm Lost, I'll Never Find the Way" / "The Flood" Mercury Records 71064-X45
1957 "Fling Ding" / "Loving You Too Well" Mercury Records 71207-X45
1958 "She's More to Be Pitied" / "Train 45" King Records (USA) 5155
1958 "Midnight Ramble" / "Love Me Darling Just Tonight" King Records 5165
1959 "Keep a Memory" / "Mastertone March" King Records 5180
1959 "How Can We Thank Him" / "That Home Far Away" King Records 5197
1959 "The Memory of Your Smile" / "Suwanee River Hoedown" King Records 5210
1959 "The White Dove" / "Mother's Footsteps Guide Me On" King Records 5233


Albums (US)[edit]

Year Title Label Number Notes
1958 Country Pickin' and Singin' Mercury Records MG-20349
1959 Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys King Records 615
1959 Hymns and Sacred Songs King Records 645
1959 Mountain Song Favorites Featuring 5 String Banjo Starday Records SLP 106 reissued 1964 as Nashville NLP-2014
1960 Sacred Songs from the Hills Starday Records SLP-122
1960 The Stanley Brothers Sing Everybody's Country Favorites King Records 690
1960 For the Good People: Sacred Songs King Records 698
1961 The Stanley's In Person King Records 719 Stereo
1961 Stanley Brothers Live at Antioch College - 1960 Vintage Collector's Club ZK 002 limited edition of 500
1961 Sing the Songs They Like Best King Records 772
1961 The Stanley Brothers Harmony Records HL-7291 recorded in 1949
1961 Old Country Church Gusto Records 0084
1962 Award Winners at the Folk Song Festival King Records 791 live
1962 Good Old Camp Meeting Songs King Records 805
1962 The Mountain Music Sound of the Stanley Brothers Starday Records SLP-201
1962 Old Time Camp Meeting King Records 750
1963 Folk Concert from the Heart of America King Records 834 reissued as Hollywood HT-248 Just Because
1963 The Country Folk Music Spotlight King Records 864
1963 The World's Finest Five String Banjo King Records 872 alternate title: Banjo in the Hills
1963 Hard Times Mercury Records MG 20884 SR 60884 stereo
1964 Hymns of the Cross King Records 918 with George Shuffler
1965 The Remarkable Stanley Brothers Play and Sing Bluegrass Songs for You King Records 924
1965 Songs of Mother and Home Wango Records LP 106 reissued 1973 as County 738
1966 The Stanley Brothers: Their Original Recordings Melodeon Records MLP 7322 1947 Rich-R-Tone sessions, recorded in Bristol, Tennessee
1966 A Collection of Original Gospel & Sacred Songs King Records 963 original title: The Greatest Country and Western Show On Earth
1966 Jacob's Vision Starday Records SLP-384
1966 The Stanley Brothers Goes to Europe Rimrock Records RLP 200
1966 The Angels are Singing Harmony Records HL 7377 HS 11177 stereo
1966 Carter & Ralph Starday Records NLP-2037
1966 John's Gospel Quartet Wango Records LP 103 reissued 1977 as County 753
1966 John's Country Quartet Wango Records LP 104 reissued 1973 as County 739
1966 John's Gospel Quartet Wango Records LP 105 reissued 1976 as County 754
1966 Bluegrass Gospel Favorites Cabin Creek Records 203
1967 Stanley Brothers Sing the Best-Loved Sacred Songs of Carter Stanley King Records 1013
1967 An Empty Mansion: In Memory of Carter Stanley Rimrock Records RLP 153 reissued 1978 as Old Homestead Records 118
1967 A Beautiful Life Rimrock Records RLP 200 reissued 1978 as Old Homestead 119
1967 Gospel Singing as Pure as the Mountain Stream Rimrock Records RLP 200
1969 How Far to Little Rock King Records KLP-1046
1970 Sweeter Than the Flowers Nashville NLP-2078 also NA7-2046-2
1970 The Legendary Stanley Brothers, Recorded Live Rebel Records SLP 1487
1970 The Legendary Stanley Brothers, Recorded Live, Vol 2 Rebel Records SLP 1495
1971 Together for the Last Time Lisa Joy 10329 recorded live in 1956 and 1966, reissued 1972 as Rebel Records SLP 1512
1972 On Radio: Great 1960 Radio Shows Rebel Records 1115 recorded in Live Oak, Florida
1972 Stanley Brothers - Together for the Last Time Rebel Records SLP-1512
1973 Stanley Brothers of Virginia County Records 739
1976 Stanley Brothers on the Air Wango Records 115
1980 Columbia Sessions Vol. 1 Rounder Records SS-09
1980 Columbia Sessions Vol. 2 Rounder Records SS-10
1984 On Radio Vol. 1 County Records 780
1984 On Radio Vol. 2 County Records 781
1984 Starday Sessions County Records 106/107
1988 The Stanley Brothers on WCYB Bristol Farm & Fun Time Rebel Records 855 recorded 1947
1994 Clinch Mountain Bluegrass Vanguard Records 77018-2 live, Newport Folk Festival, 1959 and 1964
1997 Earliest Recordings Rich-R-Tone Records 6004 recorded 1947-1952
2004 An Evening Long Ago Legacy Recordings CK-86747 recorded in Bristol, VA, March 1956
2004 The Last Show of the Stanley Brothers: Brown County Jamboree Stanleytone Records recorded in Bean Blossom, IN, October 16, 1966



Year Title Label Number Notes
2005 Rainbow Quest: The Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson Shanachie Records 605 DVD, season 1, episode 18, 1965

Charted singles[edit]

Year Single US Country
1960 "How Far to Little Rock" 17


  1. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. pp. 2361/2. ISBN 0-85112-939-0.
  2. ^ a b Stambler, Irwin; Grelun Landon (2000). Country Music: The Encyclopedia (3rd ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 457–8. ISBN 0-312-26487-9. Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  3. ^ Back of 33rpm album cover "In Memory of Carter Stanley/ An Empty Mansion by The Stanley Brothers. Testimonial story by Ralph Stanley. Old Homestead Records OHCS 118.
  4. ^ Malone, McCulloh 1975, p. 426.
  5. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 80.
  6. ^ Wright 1995, p. 3.
  7. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 82.
  8. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 84.
  9. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 87.
  10. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 88.
  11. ^ Rosenberg 2005, p. 85.
  12. ^ Wright 1995, p. 4.
  13. ^ "Folklife Database: Recording of the Suwannee River Jamboree radio program". State Library and Archives of Florida. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
  14. ^ Wright 1995, p. 5.
  15. ^ "Les Woodie passes". March 26, 2018.
  16. ^ Pennell, Charley (November 10, 2009). "Blue Grass Singles by Artist". Discography of Bluegrass Sound Recordings, 1942 -. ibiblio. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  17. ^ Abrams, Steven (September 2, 2009). "COLUMBIA (Microphone label, USA) 20500 - 21000 Numerical Listing". The Online Discographical Project. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  18. ^ Abrams, Steven (October 28, 2009). "Mercury Numerical Listing - 70000 Series". The Online Discographical Project. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  19. ^ Edwards, David; Callahan, Mike (January 10, 1998). "King/Federal/DeLuxe Story". Album Discographies. Both Sides Now Publications. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  20. ^ Pennell, Charley (January 10, 1998). "Blue Grass LPs by Artist". Discography of Bluegrass Sound Recordings, 1942 -. ibiblio. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  21. ^ Praguefrank (March 15, 2009). "Stanley Brothers". Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies. Retrieved January 29, 2010.
  22. ^ Lambert, Gerard "Rocky" (April 5, 2007). "Stanley Brothers". Discographie Rock 'N' Country (in French). Retrieved December 28, 2009.


  • Johnson, David W. (2013) Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers, University Press of Mississippi
  • Malone, Bill C. (1975) Judith McCulloh, Stars of Country Music, University of Illinois Press
  • Rosenberg, Neil V. (2005) Bluegrass: A History, University of Illinois Press
  • Wright, John (1995) Traveling the High Way Home, University of Illinois Press
  • Reid, Gary B. (2015) "The Music of the Stanley Brothers, University of Illinois Press

External links[edit]