I just ran across this old picture of Ralph Stanley with all five of the Hicks Sisters, so I thought it would be appropriate to post it on Ralph's birthday, which also happens to be the birthday of my sister, Argen. She's the first sister on the left, followed by Claire, Laurie, Nancy, and Murphy. In birth order, left to right, it's 3, 2, 5, 4, and 1. Yes, I am the oldest of five girls. No boys in our family!
This photo was taken at the Apple Blossom Bluegrass Festival right here in Winchester, Va., probably in the late 1990s. The Hicks Sisters were making a rare stage appearance, possibly in support of our all-gospel cassette, With Sweet Accord. We hope to one day get that recording transferred to CD because there is some really good gospel harmony singing on it. And some really tasty mandolin playing by Red.
As you can see in the picture, I'm having a bad hair day, and look a lot like Moe of the Three Stooges. But I do have on a nice belt! And a big smile because Ralph is touching my left shoulder. I wonder if that made me a better banjo picker? Ralph looks like he's having a big and rich time, surrounded by five Georgia Peaches!
If you want to read more about Ralph, there are several books out now about him. I think his own autobiography, Man Of Constant Sorrow, is probably the best and easiest to read. But Traveling The Highway Home by John Wright is also excellent. The latest, Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers, by David Johnson, has some serious flaws (factual and in copy editing) but still manages to convey an exciting sense of the era in which the Stanley Brothers were performing. And it's the only book so far to deal with both Ralph and Carter. (Although Ralph, of course, mentions Carter a great deal in his autobiography.)
You could also celebrate Ralph's birthday by listening to some of Ralph and Carter's excellent music. Just off the top of my head, here are some of my favorite songs:
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Riding That Midnight Train
Please Papa Don't Whip Little Benny
Stone Walls and Steel Bars
The Memory of Your Smile
She's More To Be Pitied Than Scolded
Cry From The Cross
The Kitten and the Cat
Finger Poppin' Time
And while I have many favorite Ralph and Carter albums, one that might still be available on CD is Cry From The Cross, the all-gospel album by Ralph Stanley which features Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley (along with Curly Ray Cline and Jack Cooke). The production on that album is stunning and I'm pretty sure Ricky Skaggs was behind that. And every song is a strong one. No filler.
So, once again, Happy Birthday, Ralph! Happy Birthday, Argen! Eat chocolate, drink wine, sing gospel songs!