The music great passed away on Thursday (23Jun16) following a long battle with skin cancer.

His grandson, bluegrass artist Nathan Stanley, confirmed the sad news on his Facebook page, writing, "My heart is broken into pieces. My papaw, my dad, and the greatest man in the world, Dr. Ralph Stanley has went home to be with Jesus just a few minutes ago. He went peacefully in his sleep due to a long, horrible battle with Skin Cancer."

He later shared his sorrows adding, "I feel so lost and so alone right now. He was my world, and he was my everything. He was always there for me no matter what. I just cannot get a grip on this."

Ralph helped expand and popularise the genre that became known as bluegrass with his older brother Carter Stanley and bandmate Pee Wee Lambert, as the Stanley Brothers in the 1940s. They also formed their backing band, Clinch Mountain Boys, in 1946.

Their hits included White Dove and The Lonesome River/I'm a Man of Constant Sorrow, the traditional song which they popularised in 1951.

The Stanley Brothers toured the U.S. playing folk and bluegrass festivals during the 1960s, but when Carter died in 1966 of liver disease, Ralph's own sorrow was so difficult to bear he shied away from the spotlight.

However, after about a year away from the stage, he reunited the Clinch Mountain Boys, which still continues to perform to this day. His son, Ralph Stanley II, serves as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist.

In 2000, the band had a career resurgence after his music was featured in George Clooney's O Brother, Where Art Thou? and its hit soundtrack.

Stanley has been honoured with many awards and special recognitions, including a Grammy, an honorary doctorate from Tennessee’s Lincoln Memorial University and the National Medal of the Arts in 2006.

He also performed at the inaugurations of U.S. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and was given a Living Legend medal from the Library of Congress.

Stanley hasn't been in good health over the past few years, bowing out of touring after a farewell trek in 2014, but continued to play odd shows here and there.

Last year (15), he insisted he had no plans to hang up his microphone completely, saying, "God has had his hand on my career for the past 68 years. It's up to him when I will quit. I have no plans of slowing down. I love my fans, and I love performing."