Ralph Stanley, a patriarch of Appalachian music who with his brother Carter helped expand and popularize the genre that became known as bluegrass, died Thursday, the AP reports. He was 89. Stanley died at his home in Sandy Ridge, Va., because of difficulties from skin cancer, his publicist says. Stanley was born and raised in Big Spraddle, Va., a land of coal mines and deep forests where he and his brother formed the Stanley Brothers and their Clinch Mountain Boys in 1946. The brothers fused Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe's rapid rhythms with the mountain folk of groups such as the Carter Family, adding a distinctive three-part harmony. After Carter Stanley died of liver disease in 1966, Ralph drew even deeper from his Appalachian roots, adopting the a cappella singing style of the Primitive Baptist church where he was raised.
At age 73, he was introduced to a new generation of fans in 2000 due to his chilling dirge "O Death" from the hit Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? movie soundtrack. Stanley won a Grammy for best male country vocal performance in 2002 and was the focus of a successful tour and documentary inspired by the soundtrack. The following year he and Jim Lauderdale won a Grammy for best bluegrass album for Lost in the Lonesome Pines. Stanley told the AP in 2002 that younger people were coming to see his shows and hear his "old time music," and he was enjoying the belated recognition. "I wish it had come 25 years sooner," he said. "I am still enjoying it, but I would have had longer to enjoy it." Despite health problems, he continued to record and tour into his 80s, often performing with his son Ralph Stanley II on guitar and his grandson Nathan on mandolin. He is survived by his wife of 47 years, Jimmie Stanley. (Read more bluegrass stories.)