After visualizing and singing about it for decades, bluegrass pioneer Ralph Stanley finally joined his older brother Carter in the tiny graveyard at the pencil point of a high hill on Smith Ridge, Virginia.
Stanley, who died Thursday (June 23) at the age of 89, was memorialized at an outdoor funeral service Tuesday on the grounds where he had held his annual Hills of Home bluegrass festival for the past 47 years.
Up until this year, when he was too ill to attend the festival, Stanley concluded each one by singing “The Hills of Home” and reciting a tribute to Carter, who died in 1966, after having been lead vocalist and chief songwriter for the Stanley Brothers and the Clinch Mountain Boys since the band was launched in 1946.
The final verse of the tribute, which chronicles the Stanley Brothers’ musical odyssey, says, “So Carter, if you can hear me, rest in peace/for one day this earth I’ll no longer roam/And once again we’ll be together/side by side in the hills of home.”
Tuesday’s funeral services were open to the public and drew a large crowd that included many of Stanley’s friends, neighbors, business associates and former Clinch Mountain Boys.
Seated on the festival stage beside Stanley’s casket were his widow Jimmi, his son, Ralph II, and his grandson, Nathan, both of whom “interned” and then performed in the Clinch Mountain Boys before they began solo careers.
Larry Sparks, who became the Clinch Mountain Boys’ lead vocalist after Carter died, sang the majestic “Green Pastures” with Judy Marshall, one of Stanley’s favorite gospel singers.
Skaggs riveted the crowd with his powerful a cappella rendering of “City That Lies Four Square.”
Later he and Loveless provided Gill vocal harmonies on Gill’s classic, “Go Rest High on That Mountain”
Skaggs, along with his picking buddy Keith Whitley, enlisted in the Clinch Mountain Boys when they were still teenagers and cut their musical teeth under Stanley’s watchful eye.
Former Clinch Mountain Boy John Rigsby sang a spare but moving version of “Sweet Beulah Land.”
Jim Lauderdale, who shared a Grammy award with Stanley and his band in 2002 for the album Lost in the Lonesome Pines, spoke to the crowd about the esteem in which he and other musicians held Stanley.
The services ended with a recorded version of Stanley performing his “Hills of Home” valedictory, after which his casket was borne up the mountain to be laid in a tomb beside Carter’s.