On This Day #23 – Carter Stanley passes

On This Day …….

On December 1, 1966, Carter Stanley passed away in Bristol Memorial Hospital, Bristol, Tennessee. He was just 41 years old.

Carter Stanley, guitarist and lead singer in the Stanley Brothers band, was born at Big Spraddle Creek, Dickenson County, Virginia, on August 27, 1925.

Prior to teaming up with his younger brother, Ralph (banjo player and tenor vocalist), to form the Clinch Mountain Boys, Carter Stanley played for about a couple of months with Roy Syke’s band, the Blue Ridge Mountain Boys.

The Stanley BrothersIn November 1946 the brothers joined forces and set out on a journey that would last, with only the occasional break, for 20 years.

For many years they worked on Bristol’s WCYB radio station using that as a base while they travelled the rural by-ways performing in person at school houses, small halls, and drive-in cinemas.

Later the duo had a base in Live Oak, Florida, where they headlined WNER’s weekly Suwannee River Jamboree.

They made their recording debut in the fall of 1947, for Rich-R-Tone, a label based in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Later the Stanley Brothers recorded for Columbia Records (1949 to 1952), Mercury Records (1953 to 1958); from there their records were released by Starday Records and King Records of Cincinnati.

Other labels on which the duo’s recordings can be found are County Records, Rebel, Wango, Copper Creek, Bear Family, Rounder, and Time Life. The complete catalogue embraces studio recordings, those taken from radio shows, and complete sets from performance at music parks like that at New River Ranch, Rising Sun, Maryland, Sunset Park, Oxford, Pennsylvania, and Melody Ranch, Glen Burnie, Maryland.

Initially, the brothers played a lot of what they heard Bill Monroe sing on the Grand Ol’ Opry, but that was a major drawback if they wanted to create an individual identity and forge a lasting career for themselves.

Thus, Carter Stanley started writing songs for them to perform. In all, he composed more than a hundred songs, many of which remain standards in the bluegrass genre.

Gary B. Reid, the go-to person for anything about the Stanley Brothers, and the author of a forthcoming Stanley Brothers discography, takes up the story …..

Gary ReidCarter Stanley was one of the first people to popularize what has come to be known as bluegrass music. He fell under the spell of the music of Bill Monroe and, along with his brother Ralph, created a compelling blend of Monroe’s music and the mountain music of their upbringing in rural south-western Virginia.

The duo is known for their soulful singing and an excellent selection of superb original songs. Carter wrote the majority of the songs for the duo and is today — nearly 50 years after his passing — considered one of bluegrass’ finest songwriters.

The combination of Carter’s emotion-laden lead vocals, and his songs of lost loves and separation, created a solid foundation for the formative days of the music. While many of his songs seemed to evolve from snippets of other, older songs he had heard in his youth and formative days, he had an uncanny knack for crafting and re-casting these songs in ways that made them profoundly meaningful to audiences in the Stanleys’ native Appalachian region.

The songs also struck responsive chords with a growing number of urbanites who were discovering the duo’s music. The songs remain as poignant and relevant today as when they were first introduced 40, 50, and 60 years ago. Carter and Ralph’s music is without a doubt more popular today than it ever was in the group’s 20 years together.

The Stanley Brothers’ many fans lament the fact that Carter passed from the scene before he was able to see the widespread acceptance his music has received. That his music has survived, prospered, and continues to grow in popularity is a fitting tribute to his genius and talents. May his heart-rendering voice of the Appalachians continue to inspire and comfort for generations to come.”

One of his songs, the mournful Lonesome River, recorded for Columbia Records, gave its name to the Lonesome River Band. The song is an excellent example showing Carter Stanley’s particular knack for writing deceptively simple lyrics that portrayed very strong emotion.

The first verse reads ….

“I sit here alone on the banks of the river
The lonesome wind blows the water rolls high
I hear a voice calling out there in the darkness
I sit here alone too lonesome to cry”

In the spring of 1966, the brothers toured Europe.

The Stanley Brothers were inducted into the IBMA’s Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame in 1992.

In 2005, The Barter State Theatre of Virginia premiered an original stage production entitled, Man of Constant Sorrow: The Story of the Stanley Brothers, written by Dr. Douglas Pote.

Ralph Stanley (Hills Of Home), Fred Eaglesmith (Carter) and Dixie Hall (I Wish That I Could’ve Met Carter) have all written excellent tribute songs to Carter Stanley.

Here Carter and Ralph Stanley sing one of their best known songs; Rank Stranger.


Previously at Bluegrass Today:

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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.