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Fred Bartenstein Celebrates Ralph Stanley

Larry Miller, Wikimedia Commons

This week Tom Duffee sat down with Fred Bartenstein, a local bluegrass performer, historian, and author. Together they celebrated the life of Bartenstein’s intimate friend, the musician and singer Ralph Stanley. Stanley died on June 23 at the age of 89.

Tom Duffee interviews Fred Bartenstein, part 2

Stanley was famous for his distinctive bluegrass music, an older style from the coalmining region of West Virginia, which had never been recorded before. In fact, he was reluctant to lump in his music with the broader bluegrass genre, saying, “I sing the old time mountain music. Some call it bluegrass.”
A shy, intelligent child, Stanley served for a year in the military in 1945. The next year, he started performing, against the wishes of his officers, who wanted him to become a career military man.
Stanley performed with his brother Carter as part of the Stanley Brothers band, which recorded with King and Columbia Records. Later in life, his song “Oh, Death” was featured prominently in the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The broadcast version of this interview included excerpts from Stanley’s performance at Antioch College in 1960. Antioch, one of the first colleges in the country with a folk music club, was ahead of its time in showcasing folk music and other traditional styles.

Tom Duffee has been playing and listening to traditional and country sounds all his life. He started playing the banjo when he was twelve. In his later teens, he started playing in public, sharing in the rich old-time and bluegrass heritage that exists in the Miami Valley. For the past 35 years, he has played in the old-time string band, the Corndrinkers. In 1971, he started programming traditional music on WYSO. With his brothers Dan and Jim, the Duffee brothers initiated a Saturday night bluegrass show as well as a morning offering, Rise When the Rooster Crows, both of which remain on WYSO to this day. Tom's wife, Linda, with whom he shares his life and his music, is a renowned fiddler in the Miami Valley area.