Monday, May 19, 2014
– Dr. Ralph Stanley became a doctor for the second time today as Yale University awarded him an honorary degree.
Stanley received 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.
Stanley's award was presented by Yale president Peter Salovey, a bluegrass enthusiast himself who plays bass in a band called Professors of Bluegrass.
Stanley's 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 degree."
The 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.
This is Stanley's second honorary doctorate, the first having been awarded him in 1976 from Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tenn.
Stanley 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 1966.
Stanley later built and led a band that at various times featured such rising talents as Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks and Charlie Sizemore. Stanley's prominence arose thanks to being on the soundtrack of the 2000 movie "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" He went on to earn a Grammy as top male country music vocalist, edging out Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Tim McGraw and Lyle Lovett. He has won three Grammys.
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.