Bluegrass world remembers Ralph Stanley of 'O Brother' fame

The bluegrass musician expanded his fanbase when he appeared on the soundtrack for the smash-hit film 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' 

Joe Mahoney/The Richmond Times-Dispatch/AP/File
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys appear at the Richmond Folk Festival in 2012. Stanley, who died Thursday, became known for his music on the 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' soundtrack.

Ralph Stanley, who died Thursday, was an acclaimed bluegrass musician.

Mr. Stanley, who was given the Living Legends award from the Library of Congress and a National Medal of the Arts, performed as the Stanley Brothers with his sibling, Carter, and the musician also performed with his band as Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Among other work, Stanley recorded the song "Man of Constant Sorrow" in 1951 with Carter Stanley.

Stanley also appeared on the hit soundtrack for the 2000 film "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," which was written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen and stars George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson, and Holly Hunter.

Stanley performed the song "O, Death" for the film and the "O Brother" soundtrack went on to become certified eight times platinum. Other musicians who appeared on the album include Harry McClintock, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, and Emmylou Harris. The "O Brother" soundtrack won the album of the year Grammy Award, among other recognition. 

Christian Science Monitor writer Lynne Margolis called the "O Brother" soundtrack "the surprise hit of 2001." 

"The success of the 'O Brother' soundtrack is the latest sign that Americans want to hear the hybrid blends of folk, blues, country, rockabilly, and regional sounds (zydeco, Cajun, native American) known as roots music, Americana, or its punk-edged cousin, alternative country," Ms. Margolis wrote.

Among other possible reasons for the success of the soundtrack on which Stanley appeared, Robert Santelli, president and chief executive officer of Seattle's Experience Music Project museum, suggested in an interview with the Monitor at the time that those who belong to the baby boomer generation may have been attracted to the music because they found themselves less interested in hard rock and didn't want to listen to rap or hip-hop, so the music on "O Brother" was a good solution for them.

And Rob Miller, co-owner of the independent record label Bloodshot, told the Monitor he thinks listeners sought out the music because they felt "disgust with the electronic-generated, board-room focus-group, pop-music drivel that's being crammed down our throats on the pop charts and on the country charts."

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