Bluegrass pioneer Art Stamper dead at 71

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Art Stamper, a member of the Bluegrass Hall of Fame who performed with the Stanley Brothers and Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, died after a four-year battle with throat cancer. He was 71.

Stamper, considered a bluegrass pioneer among his peers, died Sunday night in Louisville.

His style emphasized melody and emotion over speed.

"It's almost overwhelming to think about Art as being one of the first, but he was right there," said acclaimed mandolinist Sam Bush.

"Art was from the first generation of fiddle players to combine old-time music and mountain fiddling with the blues that was part of bluegrass," Bush said. "By that, I mean he was bending the notes to mimic the way a person sings."

Stamper was a native of Hindman in eastern Kentucky and a longtime resident of Shepherdsville, near Louisville.

"You're never a hero in your own hometown, I guess, but Art was one of the first to record bluegrass music back when he was with the Stanley Brothers," said Harry Bickel, a Louisville bluegrass musician and historian. "He grew up in that eastern Kentucky tradition that a lot of fiddlers never got to witness."

Bickel teamed with Stamper on his final recording, "Wake Up Darlin' Corey," released late last year on Country Records.

Stamper also performed with the Osborne Brothers and the Goins Brothers, among many others.

Last year, Stamper received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Bluegrass Music Association, joining the likes of Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Kenny Baker and Monroe.

His father, Hiram, was an accomplished old-time musician, and Stamper followed suit at age 9. He was a professional by age 16 and joined Ralph and Carter Stanley's band in 1952, just in time to help define a new genre of music eventually called bluegrass.

"Art Stamper is a classic Kentucky fiddler and a giant in traditional mountain music and the bluegrass style that evolved from it," wrote musician and historian Eugene Chadbourne in the "All Music Guide." "When the ... soundtrack for `O Brother, Where Art Thou?' became a hit, there was speculation that the `Art' in the title might be Art Stamper."

Stamper retired from a full-time music career in 1956 to raise a family (his son, Blake, released a country album last year).

He became a well-known hairdresser, winning several awards as owner of Louisville's The Way of Art. He never stopped performing, including between haircuts.

"We used to have hair-cutting day at Art's shop," Bickel said. "All of the musicians would go out to Art's and play, taking turns getting our hair cut."

Stamper returned to music full time in 1978, sitting in with a variety of bands, including Monroe's, and recording two highly regarded albums, "The Lost Fiddler" and "Goodbye Girls, I'm Going to Boston."

Besides his son, survivors include his wife, Kay Kawaguchi Stamper; a daughter, Jennifer Stone; and another son, Blane Stamper.

Funeral services will be at 7 p.m. EST Wednesday at Schoppenhorst, Underwood and Brooks with visitation after 3 p.m. Wednesday. Another funeral will be at noon Saturday at Hindman Funeral Services with visitation from noon to 9 p.m. Friday. Burial will be in Stewart-Stamper Family Cemetery in Knott County.

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