The Stanley Brothers were an American bluegrass duo made up of brothers Carter and Ralph Stanley.


Carter and Ralph Stanley were born in the Clinch Mountains of Dickenson County, Virginia. They were raised on a small farm near McClure, Virginia in that same county. Music was a part of their lives from early on, as they were able to listen to the likes of the Monroe Brothers, J. E. Mainer's Mountaineers and the Grand Ole Opry on local radio. The brothers soon formed a band, the Lazy Ramblers, and performed as a duo on WJHL radio in Johnson City, Tennessee. World War II interrupted any thoughts of a musical career, and it was not until both brothers returned from the service that they were able to make their own mark in music.

They formed their band, the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys, in 1946 as the first band to copy the Monroe sound. 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 was soon to be replaced by Leslie Keith. 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. 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. Up to now, Ralph had been playing the banjo with two fingers only on recordings and in concerts but switched in 1948 to the three-finger style popularised by Earl Scruggs. In March 1949, the Stanley Brothers began recording for Columbia Records.

During this time, Bill Monroe was not particularly fond of groups like the Stanley Brothers and Flatt & Scruggs whom he believed "stole" his music by copying it and they were therefore seen as "economic threats." Financially hard times in the early 1950s forced the brothers to take a short break in their musical career and 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. Following his recovery, Carter & 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 to headline the weekly Suwannee River Jamboree radio show on WNER from 1958 to 1962. The three-hour show was also syndicated across the Southeast. In 1966, the brothers toured Europe and upon returning home they continued to perform together until Carter's death in December 1966.

The brothers wrote many of their own songs and Carter had a particular knack for writing deceptively simple lyrics that portrayed strong emotion. The Stanley's style can best be described as a traditional "mountain soul" sound that remained close to the Primitive Baptist vocal stylings they learned from their parents and others near their southwestern Virginia home. Ralph has often used the expression "...old-time, mountain style, what they call 'bluegrass' music", to differentiate the Stanleys' sound from mainstream bluegrass. They later added an innovative touch to their traditional sound with the guitar solos of George Shuffler, an early proponent of the crosspicking guitar style.

Later, Ralph revived the Clinch Mountain Boys and is still performing as of 2010. Among the musicians who have played in the revived Clinch Mountain Boys are 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 phenomenally successful soundtrack recording of the 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou?. 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 entitled, "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

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

1946 to 1966:

Carter Stanley (Lead vocalist, guitar)

Ralph Stanley (banjo)

George Shuffler (guitar, bass)

Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert (mandolin)

Jim Williams (mandolin)

Curly Lambert (mandolin, guitar)

Leslie Keith (fiddle)

Robert "Bobby" Sumner (fiddle)

Lester Woodie (fiddle)

Ralph Mayo (fiddle, guitar)

Chubby Anthony (fiddle)

Art Stamper (fiddle)

Joe Meadows (fiddle)

Paul Moon Mullins (fiddle)

Red Stanley (fiddle)

Don Miller (fiddle)

Vernon Derrick (fiddle, guitar)

Curly Ray Cline (fiddle)

James "Jay" Hughes (bass)

Ernie Newton (bass)

James "Chick" Stripling (bass)

Mike Seeger (bass)

Charlie Cline (guitar)

Bill Napier (guitar, mandolin)

Albert Elliott [ Mandolin, Upright Bass, and Baritone ]better known as [Touser Murphy] stage name.

Larry Sparks (guitar)

Jack Cooke (bass)

John Shuffler (bass)

Melvin Goins (bass, guitar)


78 RPM

Year Title Label Number

1947 "Mother No Longer Awaits Me at Home" / "The Girl Behind the Bar" Rich-R-Tone 420

1948 "Little Maggie" / "The Little Glass of Wine" Rich-R-Tone 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 20577

1949 "Little Glass of Wine" / "Let Me Be Your Friend" Columbia 20590

1949 "The Angels Are Singing (In Heaven Tonight)" / "It's Never Too Late" Columbia 20617 1949 "A Vision of Mother" / "Have You Someone (In Heaven Awaiting)" Columbia 20647

1950 "The Old Home" / "The Fields Have Turned Brown" Columbia 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 20697

1950 "We'll Be Sweethearts in Heaven" / "The Drunkard's Hell" Columbia 20735

1950 "Hey! Hey! Hey!" / "Pretty Polly" Columbia 20770

1951 "The Lonesome River" / "I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow" Columbia 20816

1952 "Sweetest Love" / "The Wandering Boy" Columbia 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 70217

1953 "Say Won't You Be Mine" / "Our Last Goodbye" Mercury 70270

1954 "I Long To See The Old Folks" / "A Voice From On High" Mercury 70340

1954 "Memories Of Mother" / "Could You Love Me One More Time" Mercury 70400

1954 "Poison Lies" / "Dickson County Breakdown" Mercury 70437-X45

1954 "Blue Moon of Kentucky" / "I Just Got Wise" Mercury 70453-X45

1954 "Calling From Heaven" / "Harbor Of Love" Mercury 70483-X45

1955 "Hard Times" / "I Worship You" Mercury 70546-X45

1955 "So Blue" / "You'd Better Get Right" Mercury 70612-X45

1955 "Lonesome And Blue" / "Orange Blossom Special" Mercury 70663-X45

1955 "I Hear My Savior Calling" / "Just A Little Talk With Jesus" Mercury 70718-X45

1956 "Nobody's Love Is Like Mine"/ "Big Tilda" Mercury 70789-X45

1956 "Baby Girl" / "Say You'll Take Me Back" Mercury 70886-X45

1957 "I'm Lost, I'll Never Find The Way" / "The Flood" Mercury 71064-X45

1957 "Fling Ding" / "Loving You Too Well" Mercury 71207-X45

1958 "She's More To Be Pitied" / "Train 45" King 5155

1958 "Midnight Ramble" / "Love Me Darling Just Tonight" King 5165

1959 "Keep a Memory" / "Mastertone March" King 5180

1959 "How Can We Thank Him" / "That Home Far Away" King 5197

1959 "The Memory of Your Smile" / "Suwanee River Hoedown" King 5210

1959 "The White Dove" / "Mother's Footsteps Guide Me On" King 5233

Albums (US)

Year Title Label Number Notes

1958 Country Pickin' and Singin' Mercury MG-20349

1959 Stanley Brothers & The Clinch Mountain Boys King 615

1959 Hymns and Sacred Songs King 645

1959 Mountain Song Favorites Featuring 5 String Banjo Starday SLP 106 reissued 1964 as Nashville NLP-2014

1960 Sacred Songs From the Hills Starday SLP-122

1960 The Stanley Brothers Sing Everybody's Country Favorites King 690

1960 For the Good People - Sacred Songs King 698

1961 The Stanley's In Person King 719 Stereo

1961 Stanley Brothers Live At Antioch College - 1960 Vintage ZK 002 limited edition of 500

1961 Sing The Songs They Like Best King 772

1961 The Stanley Brothers Harmony HL-7291 recorded in 1949

1961 Old Country Church Gusto 0084

1962 Award Winners at the Folk Song Festival King 791 live

1962 Good Old Camp Meeting Songs King 805

1962 The Mountain Music Sound of the Stanley Brothers Starday SLP-201

1962 Old Time Camp Meeting King 750

1963 Folk Concert from the Heart of America King 834 reissued as Hollywood HT-248, Just Because

1963 The Country Folk Music Spotlight King 864

1963 The World's Finest Five String Banjo King 872 alternate title: Banjo in the Hills

1963 Hard Times Mercury MG 20884 SR 60884 stereo

1964 Hymns of the Cross King 918 with George Shuffler

1965 The Remarkable Stanley Brothers Play and Sing Bluegrass Songs for You King 924

1965 Songs of Mother and Home Wango LP 106 reissued 1973 as County 738

1966 The Stanley Brothers: Their Original Recordings Melodeon MLP 7322 1947 Rich-R-Tone sessions, recorded in Bristol, Tennessee

1966 A Collection of Original Gospel & Sacred Songs King 963 original title: The Greatest Country and Western Show On Earth

1966 Jacob's Vision Starday SLP-384

1966 The Stanley Brothers Goes to Europe Rimrock RLP 200

1966 The Angels Are Singing Harmony HL 7377 HS 11177 stereo

1966 Carter & Ralph Nashville NLP-2037

1966 John's Gospel Quartet Wango LP 103 reissued 1977 as County 753

1966 John's Country Quartet Wango LP 104 reissued 1973 as County 739

1966 John's Gospel Quartet Wango LP 105 reissued 1976 as County 754

1966 Bluegrass Gospel Favorites Cabin Creek 203

1967 Stanley Brothers Sing the Best-Loved Sacred Songs of Carter Stanley King 1013

1967 An Empty Mansion: In Memory of Carter Stanley Rimrock RLP 153 reissued 1978 as Old Homestead 118

1967 A Beautiful Life Rimrock RLP 200 reissued 1978 as Old Homestead 119

1967 Gospel Singing As Pure As the Mountain Stream Rimrock RLP 200

1969 How Far To Little Rock King KLP-1046

1970 Sweeter Than the Flowers Nashville NLP-2078 also NA7-2046-2

1970 The Legendary Stanley Brothers, Recorded Live Rebel SLP 1487

1970 The Legendary Stanley Brothers, Recorded Live, Vol 2 Rebel SLP 1495

1971 Together For the Last Time Lisa Joy 10329 recorded live in 1956 and 1966, reissued 1972 as Rebel SLP 1512

1972 On Radio - Great 1960 Radio Shows Rebel 1115 recorded in Live Oak, Florida

1976 Stanley Brothers on the Air Wango 115

1980 Columbia Sessions Vol 1 Rounder SS-09

1980 Columbia Sessions Vol 2 Rounder SS-10

1984 On Radio Vol 1 County 780

1984 On Radio Vol 2 County 781

1984 Starday Sessions County 106/107

1988 The Stanley Brothers on WCYB Bristol Farm & Fun Time Rebel 855 recorded 1947

1994 Clinch Mountain Bluegrass Vanguard 77018-2 live, Newport Folk Festival, 1959 and 1964

1997 Earliest Recordings Rich-R-Tone 6004 recorded 1947-1952

2004 An Evening Long Ago Columbia Legacy CK-86747 recorded in Bristol, VA, March 1956

2004 The Last Show of the Stanley Brothers - Brown County Jamboree Stanleytone recorded in Bean Blossom, IN, October 16, 1966


Year Title Label Number Notes

2005 Rainbow Quest: The Stanley Brothers and Doc Watson Shanachie 605 DVD, season 1, episode 18, 1965

Charted singles

Year Single US Country

1960 "How Far to Little Rock" 17