Jessica with Ralph Stanley in 2001 at Renfro Valley
It’s one of those things we all hate doing. We all hate to say goodbye to a dear friend. Starting this weekend, Dr. Ralph Stanley will be doing his farewell tour. To me, it just doesn’t seem like it is time to say “goodbye” or “farewell” to this musical legend. It really makes me go back in time to the first time I saw Ralph Stanley in college. It was at the Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival along with some of my college buddies back in 1998. I got to meet him after he performed and was instantly a fan. It also fueled the fire so to speak for me to study and learn more about Appalachian music and bluegrass music.
I was very fortunate to interview Ralph Stanley and use him as a focus of a few research papers while in college. One of my research papers was the marketing of bluegrass music in movies and television shows. Another was one of those “way out there” papers and presentations for my African American Women in Music course. The teacher required us to pick a singer and a song and relate it to the title of the class. My choice was Ralph Stanley and his song “Pretty Polly” that he sang along with Patty Loveless. My correlation was Ralph playing banjo that originated from Africa. The song was also similar in style of traditional African music with the call response/AAB style. (Trying to not get all technical on ya’ll.)
I was a nervous wreck going into the presentation as I didn’t even have a clue what to do for my opening. I’m a talker and don’t mind one bit to talk in front of crowds. However, I wanted to make sure to leave an impression. That morning, I put on my overalls and tshirt on. The teacher frowned upon the fact that I didn’t “dress up” for the presentation. It wasn’t until 5 minutes before the presentation I came up with my opener. I got up to the front of the class, stood there in my overalls, got barefoot, and sang the opening lines of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.”
“Oh, play me some mountain music, like grandma and grandpa used to play”
And from there I gave my presentation in front of all these music majors, my music teacher, and “oh so perfect” musicians. I, for one, am not a musician or any of that. In the end, I received an A+ on my presentation and paper. The teacher also said I had a knack for bringing out the Appalachian vocals. Talk about a compliment considering I just don’t really sing! Did I mention that I also had Ralph Stanley and his whole band sign the cover page of my research paper? Maybe she gave me an extra + for extra effort?
Needless to say that interview with Ralph Stanley started my love of music journalism and interviewing others. Preserving the musical heritage and history. And now we must say “farewell.” I do not dare say “farewell,” but say “I will see you soon Ralph.”
Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website with over 20 years experience in music journalism, concert planning, photography, and promotion. Jessica is a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the 2019 Leadership Kentucky BRIGHT Class and a recipient of the Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award. Listen to her each week on WFKY on Friday mornings for the Nashville News Roundup.