I Tried To Sing At Ralph Stanley’s Funeral

Here’s a story of how one bluegrass singer reacted to the passing of the great Ralph Stanley, and how the experience left him with a loving song of tribute, and a new bluegrass single.

Bill Hunter has been around traditional mountain music all his life, participating in bands as a bluegrass singer, and working in the business as a music distributor. He felt an especially close bond with Ralph Stanley, both for the way Ralph’s music had touched him through the years, and because he had met Dr. Stanley and received business assistance from him that Hunter considered very helpful.

Like so many fans of the Stanley sound, Bill was profoundly saddened when news of Ralph Stanley’s passing was announced on June 16 of last year. For those of us who have followed his music all our lives, the notion of a world without him in it was a dark one. Ralph had that way of delivering a song so that it felt as if he was singing directly to you, and it bound us to him in a very real way.

Bill’s reaction was to hear Ralph singing “Who Will Sing For Me,” one of his classic songs in which the narrator asks rhetorically who will sing for him when he is gone.

So Hunter figured it could be him. He would be happy to sing for Ralph Stanley at his funeral, and he proceeded to the public service to offer himself up for the job. When he arrived, it became clear that the Stanley family had considered this eventuality themselves, and had asked some of the good Doctor’s friends in the music world to do the honors, with Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, and Judy Marshall on hand for the task.

Though Bill didn’t get to sing at the funeral, he ended up with this song about the experience, I Tried To Sing At Ralph Stanley’s Funeral. It is performed in a definitively Stanley style by Hunter’s band, Common Man. David Cannaday is on banjo and guitar, Stan Rowe on bass, Ernie Power on reso-guitar, and Adam Cecil on fiddle.

The single is available for download purchase now from popular digital resellers online.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.