Man of Constant Sorrow, by Ralph Stanley

Much to my surprise, this is a fine, fine book. Dr. Stanley decided to write it using his own dialect, a risky choice that adds significantly to the depth and warmth of the story. Ralph Stanley has remained a simple man all his life, even after the sudden fame that came to him at age 73 when the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released. He tells his story simply, without flinching at the harder truths he encountered, and the resulting book is the best single account of life as a musician in the early years of bluegrass music.

This book was a gift to me and Chris, from our students at the recent jam camp in Owensboro. As I was chatting with some of them about bluegrass history, I mentioned that it was probably a very important addition to the canon, but we didn’t know yet because we couldn’t afford a copy. One fellow was inspired to go next door to the Bluegrass Museum, buy a copy, and have it signed by the folks who had been in our coaching groups. They presented it to us just before we all went onstage at the festival for the jam campers performance. That obviously meant more to us than the most enthusiastic evaluation form ever could.

We’ve read it since, and it definitely deserves a spot on the shelf next to the Bill Monroe and Carter Family biographies. And being one of the only first person accounts of bluegrass history makes it especially valuable.


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