NASHVILLE — May 19, 2014 — Yale
University today (May 19) awarded bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley the
Doctor of Music degree at ceremonies in New Haven, Conn. that also saw
honorary degrees going to World Wide Web founder Tim Berners-Lee, poet
Rita Dove and actor Anna Deavere Smith, among others.
award was presented by Yale president Peter Salovey, a bluegrass
enthusiast himself who plays bass in a band called Professors of
citation read “You are the patriarch of traditional mountain and
bluegrass music. From the Clinch Mountains of southwest Virginia to the
concert halls of the world, you have taken a distinct American sound
and made it your own. Your music has its roots in the gospel songs of
your childhood and in the banjo playing you learned from your mother.
The Stanley style of picking produces a distinctive and characteristic
rhythm, and generations of singers have been influenced by your
signature voice with its mournful sounds and raw emotional power. You
are a living legend and we sing your praises as we award you this
conferral ended with an academic-robed professor “kicking off” on the
banjo a version of Stanley’s famed “Man Of Constant Sorrow” as an
orchestra picked up the melody and the crowd rose to applaud.
is Stanley’s second honorary doctorate, the first having been awarded
him in 1976 from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
as the leading exponent of traditional Appalachian music and a founding
father of bluegrass, Stanley has spread his sound around the world
during his 68 years of touring and recording. He began his career in
1946 as the younger half of the Stanley Brothers, a group then headed by
singer-songwriter Carter Stanley. The Stanley Brothers performed,
recorded and appeared on television together until Carter’s death in
the years following, Stanley built and led a band that at various times
featured such rising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry
Sparks and Charlie Sizemore. So significant was the Stanley sound in
the 2000 movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? that Ralph rocketed from icon to superstar. He was profiled by novelist David Gates in The New Yorker
and went on to earn a Grammy as top male country music vocalist, edging
out Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Lyle Lovett. To date,
he has won three Grammys.
Stanley’s high, forlorn vocals are featured in the seven-million-selling O Brother soundtrack
album. In addition, he was the first performer to be inducted into the
Grand Ole Opry in the 21st Century. He is a member of the International
Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of
Stanley’s latest album, Side By Side, pairs him with his son and musical heir, Ralph Stanley II, an acclaimed singer in the Keith Whitley vein.
the dozens of world-famous artists who’ve recorded with Stanley are Bob
Dylan, George Jones, Bill Monroe, Lucinda Williams, Dolly Parton, Joan
Baez, Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Emmylou Harris, Tom T. Hall, Dwight
Yoakam, Iris DeMent, Maria Muldaur, Rhonda Vincent, Gilliam Welch and
Stanley’s spellbinding 2002 album, Ralph Stanley, and the wistful 2005 collection, Distant Land To Roam: Songs of the Carter Family
were both produced by T. Bone Burnett, the musical visionary who’s also
produced projects for Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Roy Orbison,
Tony Bennett & K. D. Lang, B. B. King, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle,
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Greg Allman, Academy Award-winner Jeff
Bridges and, most recently, Elton John.