Ralph Stanley’s still got it

By Justin Jeffre


The highlight of this year’s Midpoint Music festival for me was when Ralph Stanley took to the stage in the historic Emery Theater in Over-the-Rhine. The living legend kicked off his set with “Man of constant sorrow” which thrilled the crowd.  It was one of the songs he heard his father sing as a kid.

The song had a resurgence after it was featured in George Clooney’s 2000 comedy O’ Brother, Where Art Thou? In the movie the song was performed by the Soggie Bottom Boys, but on this night it was performed by Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys which features his grandson. The movie also helped to create a resurgence for Stanley as well.

There were several other highlights in the show as well. Stanley wowed the crowd with an accapella rendition of “O Death” which was also featured in the film. Another highlight was when Stanley put on his banjo and started “picin” something he hasn’t done publicly in nearly 4 years. He said, “It’s heavy”. The banjo is an African instrument that is best known in this country as a staple in Appalachian mountain music.

In Cincinnati he’s not only celebrated for his work, but he’s a part of our rich musical heritage. In the late 50’s the Stanley Brothers were on our hometown’s record label King Records. An eclectic label which featured both country music, blue grass and Rhythm & Blues greats like Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Otis Williams and the Charms and the legendary James Brown.