The Ralph Stanley Story

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The Ralph Stanley Story

Director: Herb E. Smith
Release Year: 2000
Running Time: 1:20:49
Original Format: 16mm Film
Color / B&W: color

Ralph Stanley’s Story is a portrait of the Grammy award-winning bluegrass great and star of the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. For over 50 years, Ralph Stanley’s banjo playing, haunting tenor voice and tradition-inspired repertoire have epitomized old time bluegrass music. This documentary explores Stanley’s musical roots in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia, the early days of The Stanley Brothers, and Ralph’s decision to continue on after the untimely death of brother Carter. Interviews with Ralph, former band members, and fellow musicians like Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakum are intercut with live performances of such songs as “Rank Stranger,” “Pretty Polly,” and “Man of Constant Sorrow.” Ralph also performs with Larry Sparks and Ricky Skaggs at his annual “Hills of Home Bluegrass Festival.”

The Stanley sound is true old-time, mountain style bluegrass music. This film tells Ralph’s story through interviews with those who know him best.

Screenings & Festivals

Gene Siskel Film Center, Art Institute of Chicago

Barbican Art Center, London, England

Experience Music Project, Seattle

Folk Alliance Conference

Northwest Film Center, Portland Art Museum

Ozark Foothills Film Festival

Sound/Unseen Film Festival, Minneapolis

West Virginia International Film Festival


“Featuring fabulous performances, Smith takes us on a delightful, old-time music journey.” – Northwest Film Center, Portland Art Museum

The documentary succeeds admirably… It captures the quiet conviction and uncompromising integrity that enabled this American musician to become one of the folk masters of our time.” – Bill C. Malone, author, Country Music, USA

If you love the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, see the story of the man whose spare, ardent music served as its template.” – Minneapolis City Pages