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April 20, 2004

Salt Lake Tribune

The crowd surrounded the old man in the white Stetson hat. They came with strips of paper for autographs, and gray-haired women blushed like schoolgirls at the singer who's brought so much attention to this quiet mountain town. Ralph Stanley, 77, has spent a lifetime telling the world in a sorrowful whisper about the hardscrabble community where he was born. In Dickenson County, where he still lives, Stanley is no less than a folk hero.

These days the community needs him more than ever. With the region's economy faltering, community leaders have pinned their hopes for prosperity to a $1.4 million museum dedicated to Stanley, scheduled to open this fall.The Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Mountain Music Center will be added to the Crooked Road Heritage Trail, which showcases Virginia's Appalachian culture by linking bluegrass music venues. A small man with sharp blue eyes and wavy white hair that cascades to the back of his head, Stanley grew up in the hills around Clintwood in a community one would expect for a bluegrass legend.

He learned to sing in a little white Baptist church with homemade benches. The pastor discouraged instruments in church, but Ralph and his older brother Carter took up the banjo and guitar anyway, playing some of their first songs at the high school in town. Stanley has recorded hundreds of albums since then, receiving most of his recent acclaim by singing a cappella, the way he once did in church. "He's the embodiment of things that we hold dear," said Herb Smith, a Kentucky filmmaker who produced a video biography of Stanley in 2001. "He stayed in the community and at the same time presented our culture in a positive way externally. That's a rare combination." More

Posted by acapnews at April 20, 2004 8:42 AM


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