A new King of Bluegrass?

Jimmy Martin - The King of BluegrassBrian Baker, writing for CityBeat Cincinnati, recently suggested that we coronate a new King of Bluegrass.

His suggestion as to who should wear the crown? Ralph Stanley.

His reasoning for recognizing Stanley is certainly sound, but his premise is wrong.

If Monroe was the King of Bluegrass, the fact remains that the king is dead and the throne can’t remain empty, the crown unworn. Perhaps it’s time to coronate a new King of Bluegrass, and if so the only true heir is Dr. Ralph Stanley.

Two errors of understanding on Baker’s part inhabit this suggestion.

First, succession to the crown just doesn’t happen that way in the music world. No one is suggesting that because Elvis is dead we should crown someone else as the King of Rock-n-Roll. That suggestion would be met with great protest by true Rock-n-Roll fans. The crown is the King’s and he lives on in his recordings. So too in bluegrass, the King may have left us, but his music has not.

Secondly, but just as important, Monroe was never considered the King of Bluegrass. That distinction falls to Jimmy Martin. Baker has just shown his lack of familiarity with the genre, to engage in a discussion concerning the royalty of bluegrass, and mistake the King.

He does acknowledge Monroe’s rightly deserved, and highly honored, title as the Father of Bluegrass, and gives Dr. Ralph perhaps a very fitting title at the same time.

Bill Monroe is widely recognized as the Father of Bluegrass, and so, in that context, perhaps we can consider Ralph Stanley as the genre’s kindly Uncle ‚Äî the guy who teaches us about life and ourselves without inflicting the unflinching discipline and judgmental subjectivity of our old man.

Baker should have stopped there with the giving of titles. I think most of us bluegrass fans would be perfectly OK with Uncle Ralph. But then, that wouldn’t have worked with his angle: The Bluegrass of King, The King of Bluegrass.

Still, it’s not Stanley’s sizable global accomplishments that will be honored at Sunday night’s Cincinnati Entertainment Awards but his local connection to King Records on the occasion of the label’s 65th anniversary.

The recognition of King Records’ 65th anniversary, and Ralph Stanley’s connection to the label, are worth celebrating. I love Dr. Ralph’s music as much as the next trad-bluegrass fan, but let’s not be so quick to attempt the coronation of a new King. Jimmy’s music is alive and well.

All hail the King! Honor your Father! And enjoy hanging out with your Uncle!

  • StewartE

    Keeping in mind his honorary doctorate, I think Ralph should be the Professor of Bluegrass.

  • 1969mets

    Ralph Stanley needs no title. Anyone who knows, knows that he’s the preeminent living practitioner of the genre. Jimmy Martin was great, but titles mean nothing…especially the title “King” which, in my opinion, is usually reserved for braggadocios, wannabees, or poseurs. See 1. the battle for the “King of Zydeco” or 2. Jim Leyritz, an average ballplayer who dubbed himself “The King” or …

  • Hey Brian.. call me.. you’re in Cincy.. I’m in Newport.. we’ll hash this out. Ralph is the DOCTOR.. remember? hehehe
    Listening to the Stanley’s fixes what ales ya when symptoms show you have bluegrass withdrawal symptoms!

    Now, as far as nicknames go… well.. a rose by any other name, like bluegrass, is still sweeeeeeeeeeeet! Only your ears have the job this time!