A Life of Sorrow: The Life and Times of Carter Stanley

GaryReid_carterOn Wednesday September 10, A Life of Sorrow: The Life and Times of Carter Stanley gets its first public airing when Stanley Brothers expert Gary B Reid presents his one-man show – just him and a guitar – enacting the many aspects of Carter Stanley’s life.

Carter Stanley, who possessed one of the most emotion-laden voices in bluegrass music, was cited by Bill Monroe as one of the “best natural lead singers” he’d ever heard. A supremely talented and creative individual, Stanley also possessed a destructive element in his life, passing away prematurely at the young age of 41. In A Life of Sorrow Reid remembers many facets of Stanley’s life – both public and private.

The show runs for about an hour.

Recently, I chatted with Reid about the production, on which he has been working seriously since 2009 …..

How would you describe the production, A Life of Sorrow?

“A visit with Carter Stanley where he has an opportunity to tell today’s audiences about his life… early childhood days on the family farm, admiration for musicians who influenced him, his jealousies, struggles with alcohol, and respect for musicians who worked with him.”

From where did you get the idea?

“I’m not sure what made me think of this in connection with Carter Stanley, but… I first got the idea from having seen — some 40 years ago — Hal Holbrook do a one-man show about Mark Twain. I kicked around the idea for some time before finally deciding to become proactive about putting my show together. I contacted the drama department at the local community college and subsequently took semesters of acting classes. It was there that the script first began to take shape.”

Have you been working on it since then?

“Ever since starting at the community college, this has been an on-going work-in-progress.”

How have rehearsals gone?

“Rehearsals have been going OK, I presented the material to several test audiences a year or so go. One of the women from my acting class requested that I perform for several civic organizations that she is connected with. I was honored to have received a standing ovation at one of the performances.”

This premiere is very much a local event; where else are you planning to take your show? Florida, where many of the Stanley family reside?

“I have interest from two other venues locally to host the event. One is a local arts council in a community located about 45 miles from Roanoke. Another is in Lexington, Virginia, where a husband and wife open their house to host house concerts. Ideally I’d like to work it 40-60 dates a year.”

Has there been any firm developments that will enable you to take the show to Europe?

I’m hoping to talk to Rienk [Janssen] and Pieter [Groenveld] at IBMA. Paolo [Dettwiler] is ready when I’m ready.*

A Life of Sorrow: The Life and Times of Carter Stanley will be presented at 7:00 p.m. Wednesday, September 10 and at 2:00 p.m. Thursday, September 11 at the South County Library in Roanoke, Virginia. The event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited and on a first-come, first-served basis. Doors will open 30 minutes before the event is to begin.

Reid did an interview earlier today for Roanoke TV station WSLS, where he spoke in more detail about the show.

The Carter Stanley song A Life of Sorrow, after which this show is named, was recorded by the Stanley Brothers for Mercury Records on April 11, 1952.


Reid is a veteran of more than 40 years of bluegrass and old-time music, who started out as a fan and over the years worked as a researcher, musician, record producer, historian, owner of a recording company and concert promoter. He has facilitated the production of more than 400 bluegrass and old-time albums and CDs, written dozens of articles on the music and countless booklet notes to CD releases and is a three-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s award for Best Liner Notes.

He tells us that he has shaved his mustache and darkening his hair for the role.

*Rienk Janssen owns Strictly Country, a retail outlet selling bluegrass and old time records, and Pieter Groenveld recently retired from running Strictly Country Records. Both are based in the Netherlands.

Swiss-based Paolo Dettwiler is one of the founders of the European Bluegrass Network and, under his guidance, that matured, in February 2001, into the European Bluegrass Music Association (EBMA). He has served as International representative on the IBMA Board.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.