Ralph Stanley and “O Death”

ralph-stanley

In a 2008 interview, Ralph Stanley recalled his participation in the soundtrack of the film O brother, where art thou?, which brought him a level of international recognition that he had never dreamed ofparticularly for his haunting rendition of the traditional Appalachian spiritual O Death.

T-Bone Burnett had several auditions for that song. He wanted it in the Dock Boggs style. So I got my banjo and learned it the way he did it…I went down with my banjo to Nashville and I said, “T-Bone, let me sing it the way I want to sing it,” and I laid my banjo down and sung it a cappella. After two or three verses, he stopped me and said, “That’s it.”

Quoted in “Old-time man” by Don Harrison (Virginia living June 2008, pp. 54–57).

Today would have been Ralph Stanley’s 90th birthday! Below, a performance from later in his career. (Can anyone tell us the place and date? We wonder if it’s his performance for the 2006 National Medal of Arts ceremony.)

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