This week some of our readings consisted of Robert Cantwell’s “Hillbilly Music” and select chapters of Thomas Goldsmith’s ‘The Bluegrass Reader”. After reading them several questions rose to mind. Chiefly among them were two issues I’ve been considering regarding bluegrass music:
1. Much of bluegrass’s success can be credited to the widespread of radio in the early 20th century. If there hadn’t been radio stations and shows like the Old Opry, would bluegrass have still risen to popularity? Like Jazz and Blues before it, could the mountain music have spread simply by traveling musicians and word of mouth?
2. One of the most prominent and most respected musicians today, Ralph Stanley has a history of over 70+ years of making bluegrass music. What is it about the Stanley Brothers (and later just Ralph’s) singing that draws so many people? How does it differ from Bill Monroe’s “high lonesome” sound, or the high energy drive of the Osborne Brothers?
To show why Ralph Stanley is such a talented vocalist and musician, here is an earlier version of “Oh Death”, as recorded with his brother Carter and the Clinch Mountain Boys. This song would later bring worldwide recognition for Ralph’s solo performance featured in the film Oh Brother Where Art Thou?