A college memory thanks to Dr. Ralph Stanley
It is hard to believe that bluegrass music legend, Dr. Ralph Stanley, is 88 years old today. A couple of years ago he said that he was going to retire, but he is still up on the stage singing when he can. He also just released a new album via Cracker Barrel.
Back when I was a student at Berea College, I did several research papers and an independent study on bluegrass music. One of those papers was on the marketing influence of bluegrass music in movies and television. It was right at the time that ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ was popular. I was fortunate to get to interview Ralph Stanley during that time.
One of those research papers and presentations were for my Women in African American Music. The assignment was to pick a singer and a song and how it related to African American music. My choice was Ralph Stanley and Patty Loveless singing “Pretty Polly.” I tied it in with the banjo coming from Africa and the musical style of AABB. Thanks to James Alan Shelton, who played guitar for Ralph for many years until his passing, I was able to get all of the band members to sign my cover page of my research paper.
For the presentation, I wore a pair of bib overalls and took off my shoes to be barefoot. I didn’t even think of my introduction until minutes beforehand. There I stood nervously in front of the music teacher and fellow students as I sang a few lines of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” I spoke about the stereotype of bluegrass music listener and the musical style. I later described the history of Ralph Stanley, his legacy, and music.
The teacher was a tough one needless to say, and I was very nervous as to what my grade would be on my paper and presentation. I was surprised when I received the paper with my grades. I received an A+ on both my paper and presentation due to the extra work in getting the interview with Ralph. As for my singing, she said it was a nice touch. (I think she was just being nice. haha)
One day I hope to make it over to the Ralph Stanley Museum & Musical Heritage Center in Virginia. Just place that on my Bucket List.
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.